Dooley Invites Bahrain Ambassador to Public Discussion of Human Rights Reforms
Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley has invited Houda Ezra Ebrahim Nonoo, Bahrain’s Ambassador to the United States, to join him for a public discussion of human rights issues each addressed in recent online postings. The invitation followed Ambassador Nonoo’s publication of a blog criticizing Dooley’s June 15 Foreign Policy piece about Bahrain’s prosecution of 20 medics for treating those injured in last year’s uprising and exposing the truth behind the Bahrain regime’s false claims of reform. In a letter sent to Ambassador Nonoo, Dooley noted that a public discussion about issues related to the medics’ trials would shed light on a number of questions that remain unanswered in the wake of the June 14 appellate verdicts. In those rulings, 11 of the 20 medics prosecuted had their guilty verdicts confirmed, while nine – including five of the six women originally charged – were declared innocent. New jail sentences ranged from one month to five years. “I planned to be in Bahrain this week to ask government officials there about the contradictory messages the Kingdom has made about the medics case, but I was refused entry. I hope Ambassador Nonoo will accept this invitation to clear up some of this confusion publicly,” Dooley noted. “I’d also like to address the status of reforms promised last fall following the Bahraini government’s pledge to tackle problems identified by the Bassiouni Commission.” Dooley notes that many of reform promises by the Kingdom in the wake of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry’s investigation of alleged human rights abuses, an effort led by Cherif Bassiouni, have yet to be fulfilled. He notes that the medics’ convictions seem out of step with this commitment, as do the following other areas of concern:
- JUDICIAL HARASSMENT: Bahrain’s National Safety Court, presided over by a military judge, convicted 502 people in 2011. Though the court no longer convenes and appeals have been moved to civilian court, the government continues to pursue charges against those initially convicted in the unfair venue. Among these cases was that of the 20 medics. Also included in this number are 21 prominent dissidents, such as Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, who were convicted in military proceedings and sentenced to long prison terms. On April 30, 2012, the highest appellate court in Bahrain announced what it described as a “retrial” for this group. Human Rights First has urged that all those detained be immediately and unconditional released and that the charges against them be dropped. Several prominent human rights defenders have also been arrested and charges in the last few weeks.
- ABUSE BY THE POLICE: During Dooley’s most recent trip to Bahrain, he met more than a dozen people who reported being severely beaten by policy in February and March 2012. Local human rights activists say that hundreds of young men have been taken by policy to secret torture centers during the past few months. These victims explained that instead of being formally arrested and booked into a policy station, they were grabbed by a group of riot policy and taken to an alternative site or nearby house to be beaten for several hours. After the beating, police take the victims’ cell phones and money and then abandon the in a remote location. Today’s report provides first-person accounts of these police attacks.
There are nightly reports of tear gas being used against peaceful protests and shot directly into people’s houses. The excessive use of tear gas has prompted The Office of the U.N. High Commission for Human Rights to call for the Bahraini government to investigate the use of such excessive force. To date, it is unclear how the police account for the number of canisters they take per shift or how they report the number they use and why.
- RESTRICTIONS ON ACCESS: Since the publication of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry report in November 2011, it has been difficult for representatives of human rights organizations and other international observers to operate in Bahrain. In January 2012, Human Rights First and other non-government organizations (NGO) were denied access to Bahrain. HRF was admitted in March 2012 under a “new policy” that allows for only a five day visa that requires a local sponsor. It’s most recent request was also denied.
“A public conversation about the status of reforms in Bahrain would signal that the Kingdom is willing to acknowledge human rights abuses identified by the commission and it remains committed to addressing these problems,” Dooley concluded.