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Attempts to circumvent a protest ban in Bahrain’s capital were put to an end with rubber bullets and tear gas yesterday, according to opposition group Al-Wefaq. Small groups of protesters on their way to Ras Rumman, the diplomatic quarter were dispersed by security forces. Protesters were quick to circulate pictures and videos online of what seems to be the standard recipe for a protest in Bahrain: peaceful demonstrators, tear gas and rubber bullets. Authorities banned the protest, under the pretence of “security.”
On Sunday, King Hamad renewed his overtures for “progress and reform”— announcing plans for constitutional reform through the expansion of parliamentary power and limiting the executive branch. Promises for constitutional reform have been met with cynicism and criticism from opposition members, as reports of violence against protesters have continued after the release of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report. Members of Al-Wefaq claimed that such changes were merely “cosmetic.”
In true bureaucratic fashion, the government also announced on Tuesday that preparations are now being made to implement the “national reconciliation programme” based on the findings of the committee on the findings of the committee appointed by the King to investigate the crackdown on protesters in February and March of last year. No word yet on whether or not officials plan to create a further committee to investigate the preparations for implementing the report.
Despite talk of reconciliation and moving forward, reports of a conflicted reality continue. The Ministry of Interior claimed that they found the dead body of Yousif Ahmed Muwali on 13 January, after he had been missing for five days. Officials declared that drowning was the cause of death, but family members of Muwali claim that he was tortured and imprisoned based on marks on his corpse. They have yet to see his autopsy. Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, was severely beaten by security forces at a 6 January protest. Members of the international community called for an investigation of the incident, and despite eyewitness reports, Bahraini officials denied beating Rajab, insisting that they actually helped the injured activist to an ambulance. Rajab, internationally renowned for speaking out against human rights violations in Bahrain, has experienced torture in the past.
Bahrain’s current climate is not promising — with reports of regular beatings and detention of peaceful demonstrators, tear gas, and intimidation of human rights defenders, which does not seem to stray far from the systematic torture and violations documented in the BICI report.
The civil unrest will not keep Bahrain from hosting a three-day International Air Show this week. The show is expected to garner 50,000 attendants from across the globe. While corporate jet setters are allowed into Bahrain, members of the human rights community are kept out of the country. Brian Dooley, director of the Human Rights Defenders Programme for Human Rights First, was refused permission to enter Bahrain, and told that such visits should be delayed until March, once the work of the implementation committee would have been completed. Rick Sollom from Physicians for Human Rights was also denied entry, on the account of government officials being under “tremendous work pressure.” While Index was in Bahrain on an international mission with 5 other rights groups in November, government officials reassured us that they were interested in welcoming rights organisations, as long as they followed the procedure for entry, as a part of their commitment to transparency and creating dialogue with the international community. It is disappointing to see that a commitment emphasised in the time around the release of the BICI, in actuality, was an empty promise.