Bahrain must grant access to Shi’ite detainees-HRW
HRW calls on Bahrain to grant access to detainees.
October 6, 2010 2:56 by Reuters
Bahrain must grant access to detainees arrested during a crackdown on Shi’ite opposition in August in what appeared to be part of wider efforts to silence political and rights groups, a rights group said on Wednesday.
Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet and a regional offshore banking centre, cracked down on its Shi’ite opposition ahead of parliamentary polls due on Oct. 23, sparking widespread street protests.
Human Rights Watch’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, Joe Stork, said the number of detainees arrested during the crackdown was too difficult to estimate.
The government said it had uncovered a network that seeks to overturn the political system by instigating violence and said it would bring charges against 23 men, including prominent Shi’ite Muslim clerics.
The island kingdom is ruled by a Sunni dynasty and its majority Shi’ite population complains of discrimination in jobs and services, an accusation government officials deny
“I’ve requested to see some specific (detainees) and that has not been granted. By law, lawyers are supposed to have that access, and families,” Stork told Reuters.
He said that while some family members of the detainees had brief access to them, their lawyers had not yet been permitted to see them other than being present during interrogations.
Some family members and lawyers have alleged that the detainees have been tortured, but Stork said there was still no evidence for that.
“The torture allegations, at this point, as far as we’re concerned, they’re allegations,” he said. “They are allegations that have some credibility because of the pattern of torture we found in a very recent period, namely 2008 and 2009.”
Human Rights Watch said in a report released in February that torture during interrogations had reappeared in Bahrain, citing cases mostly linked to protesters arrested after clashes with security forces in Shi’ite villages.
Government officials deny there is torture in Bahrain and have said the government would investigate the torture claims made by the U.S.-based rights group.
Bahrain has also restricted sermons by some Shi’ite clerics, dissolved the board of the independent Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS) and banned newsletters of opposition groups such as Wefaq, the largest Shi’ite group in Bahrain’s parliament
It has also arrested Ali Abdulemam, a Bahraini blogger and founder of bahrainonline.org, an internet forum where posters talk of sectarian discrimination and political repression.
“The takeover of the BHRS, the closure of the newsletters, the shutting down of the websites, none of this has a security rationale,” said Stork.
“This is meant to intimidate, to silence.”
(Reporting by Frederik Richter; Editing by Asma Alsharif)