x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Protesters clash with police in Bahrain

Clashes between protesters and security forces broke out on the Bahraini island of Sitra yesterday following a funeral procession for a teenager.

Protesters march in Sitra after the funeral of a teenager who was killed when he was hit by a police vehicle, said by the government to be an accident. The demonstrators were later confronted by riot police.
Protesters march in Sitra after the funeral of a teenager who was killed when he was hit by a police vehicle, said by the government to be an accident. The demonstrators were later confronted by riot police.

MANAMA // Clashes between protesters and security forces broke out on the Bahraini island of Sitra yesterday following a funeral procession for a teenager.

Police used tear gas to quell the demonstration, a day before the anticipated release of a report by an independent commission investigating the violent events that erupted in February, when security forces first cracked down on opposition demonstrations.

Hundreds in the Sitra area joined the funeral march for Ali Al Satrawi, 16, who killed in the early hours of Saturday morning when he was allegedly run over by a police vehicle.

The government said this week he died accidentally - officers lost control of the car after protesters poured oil on the road during a late-night demonstration. The teenager's death inflamed tensions in the island kingdom, where more than 40 people have been killed since February.

Thousands of people have been dismissed from their jobs and many arrested for alleged involvement in the predominantly Shiite protest movement, which demands more political rights, an end to discrimination of the Shiite majority and major political reforms.

Many hope the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report, due to be released today, will set a course towards reconciliation and help bring about changes to a country in crisis.

However, critics of the inquiry have raised questions about the independence of a commission set-up by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, fearing a "whitewash" of the truth.

On Monday, Bahrain's government admitted some security personnel had used excessive force during the height of the crackdown in February and March and afterward.

The cabinet pledged to hold accountable those responsible for human-rights violations, including mistreatment of detainees, for any crimes committed, while also outlawing torture.

"We cannot condone mistreatment and abuses by our officials. There will be no impunity," the cabinet said in a statement.

Opposition figures yesterday said that while such sentiments were positive, changes were yet to be implemented on the ground.

"I don't believe any statements coming from the authority when they come under pressure, just before this big report is launched," said Sayed Hadi Al Mosawi, a former MP and member of Al Wefaq, the main opposition party. "When they said nobody was beyond the law and accountability, we don't believe that they mean themselves."

Yesterday, several Bahraini human rights groups released a draft of their own report outlining the scale of the alleged violations that have taken place since February.

Nabeel Rajab, the head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, said the abuse carried out by the authorities has been "widespread and systematic". The draft report details serious violations of human rights, including torture and deaths in custody.

Among the report's recommendations was a call for the EU and the US to stop weapons deals with Bahrain. The organisations also urged authorities to release all political prisoners and immediately end the "violent repression of protests".

Several of the hundreds of people who gave testimony for the report spoke out about their experiences during the conference yesterday.

One man told how he was beaten in hospital, while others were left blind after being shot in the face.

Said Boumedouha, a researcher with Amnesty International who was one of several representatives from international rights groups at the draft report's release yesterday, said his organisation had repeatedly expressed concerns about the "very serious human-rights violations" in Bahrain.

"Establishing the BICI was a positive step and we are hoping there will be good recommendations [from the report] and we will be calling on the government to implement [those steps]," he said.

zconstantine@thenational.ae