KINGDOM OF BAHRAIN: Bahrain: Fears of further violent crackdown on uprising anniversary

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22 Feb 2017
[International Secretariat]
Topic: Year of Rebellion Human rights in the Middle East and North Africa

Authorities in Bahrain must refrain from using excessive force against protesters, Amnesty International urged as mass protests are under way on 14 February, to mark the sixth anniversary of the 2011 uprising.

“Bahrain is at a tipping point. The first two months of 2017 alone saw an alarming upsurge in arbitrary and abusive force by security forces as well as the first executions since the uprising in 2011,” said Lynn Maalouf, Deputy Director at Amnesty International’s Beirut regional office. “The authorities must rein in the security forces, respect the rights to peaceful assembly, association and expression, and stop executions, otherwise a full blown human rights crisis risks breaking out.”

On the evening of 12 February, hundreds of protesters took to the streets throughout several villages, in protest against the authorities’ not allowing the performance of religious funeral rituals for three men who were killed by coast guard forces on 9 February after they escaped from Jaw prison on 1 January. Bahraini Shi’a religious figures had called for mass rallies in protest. Some protests remained peaceful, while others turned violent.

Amnesty International obtained reports and photos of injuries caused by birdshot on the back, ear, foot and leg of protesters. In Sitra, a large armoured vehicle was filmed driving towards protesters, appearing to fire tear gas at body height, causing injuries. The vehicle was then bombed, with a group claiming responsibility for it. The Bahraini authorities have not responded publicly to this attack.

On 15 January 2017, three men were executed in Bahrain after nearly a seven-year hiatus and after a grossly unfair trial. In response, protests erupted in 20 villages across the country, a number of which turned violent, seeing government armored vehicles charging at protesters and almost running them over, as well as government forces using tear gas and shotguns to fire birdshot directly at protesters.

Tension has since continued rising, with scores of people arrested after 15 January, including Munir Mshaima, the brother of Sami Mshaima, one of the three men executed. He was arrested immediately after his brother’s funeral, accused of “insulting the King” during the proceedings. He was released the following day.

In some instances, protesters also resorted to violence against the security forces, throwing Molotov cocktails and burning tyres, injuring at least two police officers. According to the Ministry of Interior, two police officers have also been killed. 

More protests erupted on 29 January seeing thousands of people peacefully protesting the following day’s trial of Sheikh Issa Qassem, the spiritual leader of the Al Wefaq opposition party.

“For six years, the Bahraini government has been claiming that it has taken meaningful steps towards reform and upholding its human rights obligations. But the past few weeks have seen a very concerning renewed pattern of violations, including arbitrary detention and torture, facilitated by a continuing climate of impunity”, said Lynn Maalouf.

Despite these claims, the Bahraini government has cracked down over the past six years on freedom of expression, by increasing arbitrary restrictions on the media, banning protests in Manama and imprisoning those who voice their opinion.

14 February 2017
Amnesty International Press Release

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