Ensuring accountability for excessive force and protection for protesters

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Amnesty International has documented how in February, security forces in Bahrain used excessive force against peaceful protesters without warning and impeded and assaulted medical staff trying to help the wounded.

The riot police used tear gas, batons, rubber bullets and shotguns to disperse the crowds, killing seven people between 14 and 21 February and injuring scores of other protesters. Among those injured were medical staff who were trying to help wounded protesters in or near the Pearl Roundabout after protestors who had set up camp there were forcibly dispersed by the security forces early on 17 February. Paramedics trying to assist injured people on the same morning were beaten and attacked by the riot police. Bahrain experienced further violence in mid-March after Saudi Arabia sent in one thousand troops and UAE police arrived in the small Gulf state, apparently at the request of the Bahrain government. On 15 March Bahrain's King declared a national state of emergency of three months’ duration. On 15 and 16 March the riot police and army reportedly fired at protesters injuring many and killing several. During these two days the army and riot police blocked access to health centres and hospitals.

Since protests started on 14 February, at least 12 protesters have been killed and another four have been found dead after they went missing in circumstances that are as yet unclear. It has been reported also that three foreign migrant workers were killed, apparently by persons other than the security forces, and that at least three policemen officers also died in clashes with protesters. Hundreds others have been injured and access to hospitals and health centres has been blocked.

Following the attacks on 16 March, at least 10 opposition activists and six medical doctors were arrested. Two of the 15 detainees were released within hours of their arrest but the whereabouts of the 14 others are currently unknown. The Bahraini authorities have not said where they are being held or given them access to their families or lawyers, nor have they disclosed the legal basis for their arrest other than saying they are accused of calling for the downfall of the government, inciting violence and acting as agents of a foreign power – an implicit reference to Iran. These accusations are denied by the detainees’ families. At least eight of the opposition activists are reported to have been arrested by a joint force of Bahraini and Saudi Arabian security forces who did not produce arrest warrants. Amnesty International considers them to be prisoners of conscience; four were only recently released after several months in detention during which some alleged that they were tortured or otherwise ill-treated.

Following the deaths of seven protestors in February, the King of Bahrain announced that an inquiry would be conducted by Deputy Prime Minister, Jawad al-'Arayedh but, to date, the government has provided no further details about this inquiry. Clearly, it cannot be considered independent if it is being conducted by a senior government minister.

Amnesty International is calling on the King of Bahrain to establish an immediate full, thorough, transparent and independent commission of inquiry to investigate the use of lethal and other excessive force by the security forces against protesters, medical staff and others in both February and March, to make the results of the investigation public and to ensure that all those found responsible for unlawful killings, excessive force or other serious abuses are brought to justice.

Amnesty International is also urging the Bahraini authorities to immediately rein in their security forces, including support forces provided by Saudi Arabia and other states, in order to prevent any repetition of the killings and other abuses that have occurred so far; to respect and protect the rights to freedom of expression and assembly, including the right to peaceful protest; and to release the political activists and medical practitioners who are currently being detained as prisoners of conscience.

His Majesty, Shaikh Hamad bin ‘Issa Al Khalifa Please sign the petition urging the King of Bahrain to:

  • Set up immediately an independent commission of inquiry to conduct a full, thorough and transparent investigation into the killings and attacks on protesters and the assaults on health and medical workers, and make the results of the investigation public;
  • Guarantee and uphold the right to peaceful protest and afford protection to peaceful protesters from excessive force by police or violence by others;
  • Respect and protect the right to freedom of association and ensure that all human rights organizations and human rights defenders are able to carry out their work without political interference or hindrance;
  • Ensure that excessive force is not again used against protesters in Bahrain
  • Release immediately and unconditionally the opposition activists and medical practitioners detained in March who AI considers to be prisoners of conscience.
  • Protect foreign migrant workers who may be at risk of attack