x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Bahrain's crown prince promises reforms but "no leniency"

Bahrain's crown prince says that his kingdom is committed to reforms but that there would be no leniency for those determined to split the nation.

BEIRUT // Bahrain's crown prince has reiterated that the government remains committed to political reforms but said there would be "no leniency" for those who try to "split our society into two halves".

In a televised address on Thursday night, Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al Khalifa described the situation in the kingdom as "critical" and a problem that has "escalated beyond all limits".

"We were immensely concerned that some of our youth were pushed towards a destructive path and that the nation was drawn along with them," he said. "With our responsibility towards the people of Bahrain, we took necessary action to preserve lives and the livelihood and interests of all the people."

Sheikh Salman, who is regarded as a moderate within the government, praised the Bahraini security forces and police for their efforts to reinstate "security and safety in the kingdom".

"We must reject violence, division and sectarianism and elevate the value of work, development and open, creative thinking," he said.

His speech came just three weeks after Bahraini security forces violently suppressed pro-reform demonstrations that began on February 14. Opposition groups estimate that more than 400 people have been arrested since then, including high-profile opposition political figures, protesters and medical staff from Bahrain's main hospital, which was the site of some anti-government protests before being taken over by security forces.

At a meeting yesterday in Beirut, convened by a Lebanese organisation - the National Gathering in Support of the Resistance - a small group of Bahrainis who say they cannot return to the kingdom for fear of being arrested, said conditions in the kingdom are worsening.

Ibrahim Madhoun, a member of Al Wefaq, the country's main opposition party, said he left Bahrain on March 14. Since then, he claims that four of his sons have been arrested and his wife and young daughter have had to leave the family home after it was raided by security forces.

"They even told my 10-year-old daughter that they would take her," he said. "We, both Sunni and Shia, are demanding a free, elected parliament, chosen by the people. But, unfortunately the situation in Bahrain is just getting worse."

The Bahraini government has still not released details of the number of people who have been detained since pro-democracy demonstrations started almost two months ago.

Al Wefaq maintains, however, that more than 400 people have been arrested, many in the days since the government's announcement of the state of emergency and the clampdown on the protest camp at Pearl Roundabout on March 16.

On Thursday, Human Rights Watch released further information about the extent of the crisis, including allegations of abuse, night-time raids on villages and mass arrests.

The US-based rights watchdog said the state of emergency that was announced last month has led to a "state of fear" in which arbitrary detention is rampant.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) also criticised the Bahraini government, describing Bahraini hospitals, including Salmaniya Medical Complex, as "no longer safe havens for the sick or injured, but rather places to be feared".

"Wounds, especially those inflicted by distinctive police and military gunfire, are used to identify people for arrest, and the denial of medical care is being used by Bahraini authorities to deter people from protesting," Latifa Ayada, the MSF medical co-ordinator, said in a statement released by the international medical organisation. "Health facilities are used as bait to identify and arrest those who dare seek treatment."

The Bahraini government has repeatedly claimed Salmaniya hospital had to be "secured" by security forces after it was "overrun by political and sectarian activity".

zconstantine@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse