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Amnesty report: Bahrain reforms are 'flawed,' 'inadequate'

By Ed Payne, CNN
April 17, 2012 -- Updated 1122 GMT (1922 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Govt. accuses Amnesty of seeing the glass as "half empty"
  • Amnesty International continues to receive reports of torture and unnecessary force
  • Bahrain's king proclaimed "broad progress" last month
  • The crackdowns on demonstrators took place last year

(CNN) -- Human rights reforms in Bahrain are inadequate and have failed to provide justice for victims in the aftermath of last year's government crackdown on opposition protesters, Amnesty International said in a report Tuesday.

"The authorities are trying to portray the country as being on the road to reform, but we continue to receive reports of torture and use of unnecessary and excessive force against protests," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, the group's Middle East and North Africa deputy director. "Their reforms have only scratched the surface."

A Bahrain government spokesman accused Amnesty of seeing the "glass half empty and not half full."

"There are a lot of judicial, security, social economic measures that have been taken that have been put into place that will make Bahrain a better place to live in," Abdulaziz bin Mubarak al Khalifa said.

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Bahrain's Independent Commission of Inquiry issued a report in November that was highly critical of the authorities' reaction to the protests, which began in February 2011, spurred by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

The demonstrations failed to gain the traction of other Arab Spring uprisings following a crackdown by the authorities in the island state, backed by troops from nearby Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The independent commission, set up by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, concluded that the police had used excessive force and torture in their response to the protests in Sunni-ruled, Shiite-majority country.

Abuse of detainees in the crackdown included beatings with metal pipes and batons, and threats of rape and electrocution, according to Mahmoud Cherif Bassiouni, the commission chairman.

The mistreatment included physical and psychological torture, intended to extract information or to punish those held by security forces, he said.

The commission report recommended reforms to the country's law and better training of its security forces, as well as other measures.

The November report said the government has reformed police and security operations to ensure human rights are upheld. It also lists judicial reforms and new efforts to teach Bahrainis "the values of tolerance, acceptance and dialogue in a way that will contribute to the lasting stability of Bahrain."

But in its own investigation into human rights violations in Bahrain, Amnesty's 58-page analysis concludes that recent reforms have been flawed and piecemeal, despite the king's proclamation last month that "significant and broad progress" has been made.

The report says the reforms lack accountability and ignores continuing violations by police.

But Bahrain argues that checks and balances have been put in place and that the government hasn't shied away from its responsibilities.

"All these issues they might not address the political issues but they address the basic infrastructure of how a country should move on, having implemented the best international model that we could go for," al Khalifa said. "So we are stepping up and we are going to implement them fully."

Amnesty's condemnation comes as the Gulf nation prepares to host the Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix this weekend.

"With the world's eyes on Bahrain as it prepares to host the Grand Prix, noone should be under any illusions that the country's human rights crisis is over," Sahraoui said..

Motorsport's governing body elected last week to hold the Formula 1 in the Gulf kingdom after weeks of speculation.

In a news release issued Friday, the race's governing body said its president traveled to Bahrain in November and met with "a large number of decision-makers and opinion formers, including elected Shia members of parliament, the president of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, ambassadors from the European Union countries, the Crown Prince, the Interior Minister and many members of the business community.

"All expressed their wish for the Grand Prix to go ahead in 2012," it said.

The race, which was canceled twice last year because of concerns about safety, is due to run Sunday.

The owner of the host track, Bahrain International Circuit, said that the race should be trouble-free, although an opposition group has called for a week of demonstrations ahead of the event.

Adding to tensions is the precarious health of a jailed activist who has been on a hunger strike for more than two months.

Tuesday marked the 69th day without food for Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, 52.

Al-Khawaja was arrested in April 2011 for his role in anti-government protests that began a month earlier. The government information ministry said Friday he was in stable condition.

In June, Bahrain found him and seven other Shiite opposition activists guilty of plotting to overthrow the country's Sunni royal family. He can appeal his life sentence during a hearing April 23, the government said.

CNN's Samira Said contributed to this report.

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