Report on Bahrain’s Use of ‘Excessive Force’ a First for the Kingdom

BY Larisa Epatko  November 23, 2011 at 5:53 PM EST

An independent report released Wednesday said Bahraini security forces used “excessive force” to muffle protesters seeking a change in government last spring. The report, commissioned by the Bahraini government, was a first for the island kingdom and marks an opportunity that shouldn’t be lost by its leaders, said the editor of Bahrain’s largest independent newspaper.

The 489-page report, commissioned by the Bahraini government, outlined more than a dozen abuses committed by the Bahraini authorities, said Mansoor al-Jamri, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Alwasat, an independent Arabic-language daily. “It’s the first time that these abuses have been presented to the king and he didn’t refute them.”

The report also revealed that authorities tortured detainees to get confessions and that five people died this way, but that the incidents were isolated. (Read the full report here.)

The inquiry, which took into account interviews with more than 5,000 people, didn’t go into details about the perpetrators, but in some instances readers can tell who the violators are, al-Jamri told us. For example, it cites “the role of the national TV broadcaster in the hate campaign” or mentions the detention powers of the national intelligence agency, he said.

The report made a series of recommendations, including having the government create an independent body to employ corrective measures, calling for an end to discrimination against Shiites and considering them an integral part of the state.

The small Persian Gulf nation of nearly 1 million citizens has a Shiite-majority population and a Sunni-led government. In February and March, during the Arab Spring protests in the Middle East and North Africa, Bahrain had its own uprising. Shiites demonstrated in the streets, seeking greater representation in government and more equal distribution of resources.

The government tried to placate the demonstrators by agreeing to a national dialogue, but protesters continued clashing with security forces. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates made the unusual move of sending in troops to help Bahraini authorities control the fighting as part of a regional protective force.

In response to Wednesday’s report, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa said he would seek changes to Bahrain’s laws to make them more in line with international standards for free speech and human rights.

“We do not want ever again to see civilians tried anywhere else but in ordinary courts. We do not want ever again to experience the murder of policemen and the persecution of their families for the work they do in protecting us all,” he said, according to the BBC.

Updated 7 p.m. ET: Bahrain’s Finance Minister Sheikh Ahmed al-Khalifa said on the NewsHour that the individuals cited in the report will be pursued and held accountable for their actions. He also said the actions outlined in the report were not government policy. “This is definitely not a policy. First of all, the report says that. And, second of all, I am a member of the government. I would know if this was a policy of the government. And it isn’t.”

The White House issued a statement commending the Bahraini government for commissioning the report and saying it now needs to address the findings:

“The report identifies a number of disturbing human rights abuses that took place during this period, and it is now incumbent upon the government of Bahrain to hold accountable those responsible for human rights violations and put in place institutional changes to ensure that such abuses do not happen again.”

The report also found no evidence linking Iran to the protests, which some Bahraini officials originally had suggested.

The ball is now in the king’s court, al-Jamri said. “If he does not take action the opportunity to change will be lost.”

Watch a NewsHour report on the roots of the conflict in Bahrain:

Top photo of Cherif Bassiouni, head of the independent commission, and King Hamad of Bahrain by Adam Jan/AFP/Getty Images.

We’ll have Bahrain’s Finance Minister Sheikh Ahmed al-Khalifa and editor Mansoor al-Jamri on Wednesday’s NewsHour broadcast. View all of our World coverage and follow us on Twitter.