x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Bahrain vows 'zero tolerance' over prisoner abuse

New measures in line with inquiry into protest crackdown.

MANAMA // Bahrain's rulers pledged a policy of "zero tolerance" towards any abuse of political detainees, to reinstate all public workers sacked for dissent and to encourage foreign media into the kingdom.

The government said in a statement late on Wednesday the measures were in line with the recommendations of an independent commission's investigation into the crackdown on Shiite protests this year.

The kingdom would demonstrate a "zero-tolerance policy towards torture, inhuman treatment and degrading detention practices", said the statement.

The government would order "audio-visual equipment to ensure that all official interviews with suspects, witnesses or detainees will be recorded".

The rights of suspects would be ensured including "not be detained incommunicado, be shown a warrant upon arrest, be given prompt access to their lawyers and allowed family visits".

The steps also include reinstating all public sector employees by Sunday who were sacked for "free- speech activity".

The government would also begin "signing contracts with leading international and regional news and feature channels and broadcast outlets guaranteeing a pluralist, inclusive media environment that encourages responsible journalism while minimising speech inciting hatred, and sectarianism", it said.

Bahraini authorities on Saturday dropped charges relating to freedom of expression in 34 cases linked to anti-regime protests in February and March, BNA reported.

The news agency cited the prosecutor general, Ali Al Bouainain, as saying the move affected 343 suspects, but some of them facing other charges "including acts of violence and sabotage" would still be prosecuted.

In March, security forces boosted by some 1,000 Gulf troops crushed the month-long uprising in Manama's Pearl Square.

The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry said 35 people were killed in the unrest, including five security personnel, and five detainees who were tortured to death while in custody. Hundreds were also injured.

Meanwhile yesterday, Bahrain finished an investigation into an alleged Iranian-linked terror cell and plans to put the eight defendants on trial next month.

The head of public prosecution, Nawaf Hamza, said the unnamed defendants will be tried in the High Criminal Court on charges of espionage and of having ties to an outlawed group that uses terrorism to achieve its goals.

In November Bahraini authorities accused the group of having links to Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard and planning attacks against high-profile sites, including the Saudi Embassy and a Gulf causeway linking Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

Iran rejected the allegations.

* Agence France-Presse with additional reporting by Associated Press