x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Bahrain under the spotlight as protest inspector returns

The academic who investigated abuses during Bahrain’s crackdown on pro-democracy protests last year returned to assess how far the government has followed through on the reforms he recommended.

MANAMA // The academic who investigated abuses during Bahrain’s crackdown on pro-democracy protests last year returned yesterday to assess how far the government has followed through on the reforms he recommended.

Cherif Bassiouni, an Egyptian-American professor at DePaul University in Chicago, met members of the royal family as he prepared to begin his new mission at King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa’s invitation. The mission is expected to last until March.

Riot police still clash daily with young, mainly Shiite, protesters, who complain that they continue to be marginalised by Bahrain’s Sunni rulers. Clashes have become more violent in the run-up to the February 14 anniversary of the start of the protests.

In November, Mr Bassiouni detailed incidents of torture including sexual abuse and electric shocks that occurred during last year’s crackdown.

This time, Mr Bassiouni and his team will assess whether Bahrain has reformed its policing, reinstated sacked employees, and investigated torture claims and military trials in line with the recommendations by his independent commission.

Mr Bassiouni told DePaul students before he left that Bahrain was not moving fast enough to calm street protests.

“I think the public is going to come at the end and say ‘you know what, you’re holding all of these investigations behind closed doors – this is a whitewash’ and I think they would be perfectly justified in saying so,” he said.

Keen to demonstrate that it has acted on the report, the Bahrain government has chronicled the steps it has implemented on a dedicated website.

He suggested to his DePaul students that disputes within the royal family were holding up political and economic reforms.

“You have to choose between maintaining the unity of the family or the regime, or the unity of the country,” he said.

The Bici [Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry] report stated that 35 people had died in the protests up to June, when martial law was lifted, but activists said the continuing violence has taken the total to more than 60, including 14 since Mr Bassiouni was last in the country in November. The government disputes the causes of death.

Opposition parties said they would meet Mr Bassiouni today.

One western diplomat said the government needed time to implement reforms.

“There is a will at the top but the challenge is to ensure that the bureaucracy is as serious and to follow up with mechanisms,” the diplomat said.

* With additional reporting by Associated Press