Police ‘dodge security clean-up by torturing detainees at secret sites’ – The Times, London

Due to the paywall at The Times website, articles can only be read with a paid subscription. Two very important articles were written by Times journalist Hugh Tomlinson and they can both be read below.

Police ‘dodge security clean-up by torturing detainees at secret sites’

An anti-government protester is injured while running away from police Ahmad Jadallah/ Reuters

by Hugh Tomlinson for The Times 23rd July 2012

Bahrain has begun an investigation into allegations that police are using “black sites” to beat and torture anti-government protesters, dodging efforts to clean up security forces in the Gulf state.

The accusations cast more doubt on government claims to have overhauled police practices since an independent inquiry found systematic human rights abuses during a crackdown on anti-government protests last year. More than 80 people have been killed in the 17-month uprising.

The Bahraini regime had previously denied that the black sites existed, despite persistent allegations that beatings and torture had continued unabated since the report was published in November. But officials now admit privately that some police officers have continued to operate outside the law.

Opposition groups claim that a youth centre just outside the capital, Manama, and a police equestrian centre in the western district of Budaiya, have been used to beat and interrogate detainees before they are transferred to police stations, where stricter procedures are now in place. Cameras have now been installed outside the two sites, identified in testimony to human rights groups, to monitor those going in and out.

Both complexes lie opposite police stations and among villages that have been at the centre of the Shia-led uprising that broke out across Bahrain last year demanding democratic reform from the country’s Sunni elite. The Times spoke to one young man, who did not want not be identified, who said he has been tortured at the youth centre in June. “They beat me with a stick and a belt, and kicked me,” he said.

In April Human Rights Watch cited consistent accounts of police using secluded buildings or plots of land to abuse prisoners, including children, before taking them to a station.

The Government has staked its battered reputation on overhauling the security forces after the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) published it’s findings last year.

The panel of international human rights experts, appointed by King Hamad, exposed “a culture of impunity” within the security forces. Their report said that prisoners had been hooded and beaten, subjected to electric-shock treatment and sleep deprivation to extract confessions. Women were threatened with rape and five men were tortured to death.

more than 70 police officers are under investigation for their part in abuses committed during last year’s crackdown. But only one has so far been convicted, although three more were recently charged with murder and a further 15 have trials pending.

Most of the rest remain on duty, contrary to the advice of Western governments and advisers. The Times has learnt that Bahrain’s chief of police cannot discipline officers. Such decisions are taken by the Interior Ministry.

No senior officers or government officials have been held accountable for abuses during the crackdown, prompting allegations of a whitewash.

Several reforms have been put in motion since the BICI report. Cameras have been fitted in interrogation rooms at police stations and prisons to precent the routine abuses that occurred last year. Some £1.7 million in compensation has been paid to 17 families for the deaths of relatives last year. But these steps do not go far enough for the opposition. Abduljalil Khalil, a senior official of Bahrain’s largest opposition party, Al Wefaq, said that trust in the security forces among most of the Shia community was non-existent.

Opposition groups also claim that those who have come forward to report police abuses have found themselves arrested for taking part in protests. A political solution remains a distant prospect, and clashes between police and protesters continue in the Shia villages outside Manama. Petrol bomb attacks on patrols, which were rare when the uprising began, have become common. Activists post videos online almost daily appearing to show officers firing teargas into homes and damaging cars.

Salmanal al-Jalahma, a government spokesman, said: “We take any allegations of torture very seriously…Any accusations of police misconduct will be investigated. We would encourage people to come forward.”

Unpeaceful protest

February 12, 2011 Thousands march peacefully and call for reform. One protester killed by security forces

March 18 Pearl Roundabout, Manama, a rallying point, flattened as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and UAE send troops

June 6 Medical staff who treated injured protesters are tried on charges of plotting to topple the monarchy

November 23 The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry reveals the use of torture and killing protesters by security forces

April 22, 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix held as police crackdown continues

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Token reforms leave Kingdom on brink of sectarian violence

by Hugh Tomlinson for The Times 23rd July 2012

After a frenzied build-up to the Bahrain Grand Prix in April, the first hours of race weekend passed off with little disturbance. As the Formula One teams and officials arrived in the kingdom, the Bahraini monarchy might have felt itself vindicated after weeks of downplaying the widespread predictions of a bloodbath.

That changed on Saturday morning later that weekend when, as the drivers took to the track for qualifying, a man’s body turned up on a roof outside the capital Manama, apparently killed by police.

The Government has been reluctant to acknowledge or investigate the alleged ‘black sites’ use by police to torture detainees. Renewed accusations of police brutality do not chime with the narrative the monarchy has worked hard to create since Cherif Bassiouni, the former United Nations war crimes lawyer, spelled out his team’s findings last year.

Mr Bassiouni’s report was supposed to provide a springboard for change and reconciliation. A deluge of Government press releases would suggest that Bahrain has undergone root and branch reform in the eight months since the report. There have been tentative reforms, but they cannot paper over the widening cracks in Bahraini society. The sectarian divide between Sunni loyalists and the Shia-led opposition is now almost total.

As the gap widens, hopes of a political solution grow fainter. The regime’s handling of the crisis has radicalised both sides. A concession now to either faction would be met with unrest from the other.

The royal family remains divided between moderates who remain hopeful of reconciliation and the hardliners currently holding sway, opposed to any accord with the Shia and backed by neighbouring Saudi Arabia.

The resulting political stagnation only increases the danger of further violence, and only one more fatal act of indiscipline by the police may be all that is required to spark it.

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