x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Bahrain promises to punish abusers

The government pledges to punish personnel responsible for abuses and says torture will be outlawed and penalties toughened as a result of its own investigations.

Bahraini security personnel used excessive force during a crackdown on demonstrators this year and detainees were mistreated, the kingdom's cabinet said yesterday, ahead of tomorrow's release of the outcome of an official inquiry into the violence.

The government pledged to punish personnel responsible for abuses and said torture would be outlawed and penalties toughened as a result of its own investigations made while the commission carried out its inquiry.

Bahrain has come under widespread criticism by rights groups for the way it dealt with the protests and for the severe sentences handed down to activists by a military-run court set up during the unrest in February.

"We cannot condone mistreatment and abuses by our officials. There will be no impunity," the cabinet said. "All those responsible for abuses will be held accountable."

The government also said it would establish a new national independent human-rights institution.

"Every civilian casualty is a defeat for the government. The extremists know this and have engaged in reckless provocation."

The government said 20 prosecutions had already been made against officers and more action could follow, saying abuses breached government policy.

At least 40 people have died since February when the Shiite majority started campaigning for greater rights and political reforms.

"Our police forces have generally shown admirable restraint when faced with great provocation," the government said, adding four policemen had been killed and more than 800 injured.

The inquiry panel commissioned by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa was set up to look into the violence.

The king requested the formation of the commission, led by eminent international rights lawyers, in June.

Also that month, the government held a national dialogue which led to promises of parliamentary reforms. But it stopped short of the key opposition demand of giving the elected chamber legislative powers and the right to form cabinets.

Tomorrow's report by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry "will be very critical of these occurrences and the government's responsibility for failing to prevent them," it said.

"The government expects such criticism," it added.

* With reporting by Reuters, Agence France-Presse and the Associated Press