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Bahrain's Cat and Mouse Games

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However, the UN is taking the question of reprisals seriously, including at a panel session on the topic on 13 September. Maryam Al-Khawaja and Al-Maskati met with the UN HRC President Laura Dupuy Lasserre to discuss concerns about reprisals against Bahraini civil society. The President herself came under attack after she spoke out in the council against threats to Bahrain human rights defenders during Bahrain's UPR in May.

According to a statement by US-based Human Rights Watch, the recommendations accepted include "more than a dozen calling on the government to hold security forces accountable for rights abuses, including wrongful deaths and mistreatment of detainees in government custody." Other recommendations include immediately releasing prisoners who have been convicted solely for exercising their rights to peaceful assembly and free expression during pro-democracy demonstrations in February and March 2011.

The UPR "needs to be quickly followed by releasing leaders of peaceful protests, holding accountable high officials responsible for policies of torture, and adopting broader reforms to uphold human rights," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "The government has been claiming for months that it accepts the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) but continues to stall on the core issues and to deny that political detainees are still in Bahraini jails."

Adding to the schizophrenic flavor of seemingly contradictory actions taking place simultaneously, was the action of a Bahraini appeals court which upheld the convictions of nine medics who treated demonstrators in last year's uprising. Human Rights First charged that "the verdicts are indicative of the human rights backslide" happening in the Kingdom.

"Today was another moment of truth for the Bahrain regime, one it again failed miserably," said Human Rights First's Brian Dooley, who was in one of the appeal court hearings with the medics in March 2012. "These medics are going to prison for treating the injured and for telling the world about the regime's crackdown. This isn't the kind of progress that the Kingdom keeps promising the world is under way."

The appeal verdicts follow the original sentences given by the military court to the 20 medics in September 2011. The medics were arrested, detained and tortured into giving false confessions last year and were released from custody while their appeal was under way. In June 2012 some of the 20 were acquitted while nine had their convictions confirmed and were sentenced to jail terms of between one month and five years. It was an appeal against these convictions and jail terms that was rejected today.

The United States government sent observers to the medics' trial, and has urged the Bahrain regime "to abide by its commitment to transparent judicial proceedings, including a fair trial, access to attorneys, and verdicts based on credible evidence conducted in full accordance with Bahraini law and Bahrain's international legal obligations." Dooley notes that this has clearly not happened today, and the U.S. government should say so clearly and publicly.

"September was a terrible month for human rights in Bahrain," observed Dooley. "Thirteen leading dissidents had long prison sentences against them upheld   by the courts, prominent human rights defenders Nabeel Rajab and Zainab al Khawaja lost appeal cases to release them from prison and a teenage boy was killed by the police. These verdicts open October in a similarly ominous style."

In another case brought against 28 other medics, a verdict is expected shortly.

Turning its other cheek, on 19 September, Bahrain accepted 145 of the 176 recommendations made as part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Bahrain, a process whereby states and NGOs contribute towards improving the human rights record of a country. The process occurs every four years.

According to a statement by Human Rights Watch, the recommendations accepted include "more than a dozen calling on the government to hold security forces accountable for rights abuses, including wrongful deaths and mistreatment of detainees in government custody." Other recommendations include immediately releasing prisoners who have been convicted solely for exercising their rights to peaceful assembly and free expression during pro-democracy demonstrations in February and March 2011.

A week before, Salah Ali, Bahrain's minister of state for human rights, said the government fully accepted 143 of the 176 recommendations in response to the report of the UN working group on Bahrain's UPR that was issued in July 2012.

The UPR "needs to be quickly followed by releasing leaders of peaceful protests, holding accountable high officials responsible for policies of torture, and adopting broader reforms to uphold human rights," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "The government has been claiming for months that it accepts the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) but continues to stall on the core issues and to deny that political detainees are still in Bahraini jails."

Many UN member states have been using the BICI, Bahrain's own internal review of the human rights violations that occurred following peaceful pro-democracy protests that began in early 2011, as a benchmark for accountability. Following

the oral intervention by the United States, Assistant Secretary Michael Posner said, "progress is slowing down, and that's a concern." He noted, "everyone who is peacefully dissenting and expressing their views has the right to do that and

shouldn't be prosecuted."

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http://billfisher.blogspot.com

William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and elsewhere for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration and now (more...)
 
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