When the Arab Spring protests reached Bahrain, the tiny Gulf kingdom cracked down hard.
Since February 2011, when the first demonstrations started, at least 35 people have died.
Bahraini security forces have detained many more protesters.
A few have been put on trial – like the doctors and hospital nurses accused of treating wounded protesters, but refusing treatment to government supporters.
Some protesters claim they have been tortured in detention.
Human rights groups say five people have died in government custody.
Anchor Lisa Mullins talks to the BBC’s Frank Gardner about the complex situation in Bahrain.
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Lisa Mullins: I’m Lisa Mullins and this is The World. When the Arab Spring reached Bahrain the tiny Gulf kingdom cracked down hard. Since February when the first demonstrations began, at least 35 people have died. Bahraini security forces have detained many more protestors. A few of them have been put on trial, including the doctors and hospital nurses accused of treating wounded protestors, but refusing to treat government supporters. Some protestors claim that they have been tortured in detention. Human rights groups say five people have died in government custody. The BBC’s Frank Gardner was recently in Bahrain and he says what’s transpiring defies simple explanation.
Frank Gardner: The situation in Bahrain is quite complex. The international media have made the mistake I think of trying to apply the same rules having come straight from Egypt and Tunisia to Bahrain, thinking protest is good, government bad. It’s not quite as simple as that. The protestors do not speak for the whole country. They have legitimate grievances. The Shiites are under represented. They are discriminated against. There has been abuse. But there is a very sizable large part of the country who don’t sympathize with the protestors, who see them as troublemakers supported by Iran. And they fear that if the protestors got their way the Sunni lead monarchy would be overthrown and you’d have Tehran on the Arabian side of the Gulf. Now, that’s probably an exaggeration, but that is the fears of the Sunni community there. So set in that context there’s now an investigation going on order by the king, King Hamad, into all these thousands of alleged human rights abuses.
Mullins: Does that mean those people who are not showing up protesting, that they approve of or at least condone the government treatment of many of these protestors?
Gardner: All of the people who I spoke to who support the government don’t believe the alleged human rights abuses. They think that they have been invented or exaggerated by the opposition, which is a slightly head in the sound[? phrase 1:58] attitude because there’s no question in my mind, I’ve seen the bodies of some people who’ve died in police custody, or one person. You know, there has been abuse committed by often non-Bahrainis working for the Bahraini police, who the opposition call the mercenaries. These are Yemenis, Jordanians, Syrians. The king is essentially a good guy who is appalled by this. He’s not necessarily the most powerful person in the land anymore. There is a rather strong hard core within the ruling family who doesn’t really want any kind of concession to the protestors, and I think some of the policemen in the detention centers are getting a subliminal message from strong people in the government — do what you need to do.
Mullins: So, Frank, you were allowed to visit at least one of these detention centers where some of the alleged abuses of protestors occurred. Tell us what you saw.
Gardner: Well, I was allowed to visit what’s called al-Hurra police station, which is the largest police station in the capital. Rather as I suspected, it wasn’t exactly the belly of the beast. It was a squeaky clean, very modern police station. The prisoners that I met were nearly all common criminals convicted of things or accused of things nothing to do with the uprising. I did manage to speak with one man who said he’d been beaten. All the others said they’d been well-treated. But nevertheless this was the first time the international media had been allowed inside a detention center and it gave me a glimpse. We’re also able to get around the country unescorted. We went to a Shiite village and I interviewed one of the doctors on trial there, Dr. Fatima Haji. She says she was actually tortured, and intimidated and threatened by a female interrogator, one in prison.
Dr. Fatima Haji: She was slapping me for 30 minutes right and left, right and left. Then they told me we know where your son is going, you think he is safe? He is not safe. We can get him anytime. And at that time I just broke down, told them please stop, I’ll do anything you want. Just stop.
Gardner: Well, not surprisingly, she signed the confession which she says was extracted under duress and she’s not really guilty of anything. Sunnis don’t believe that, Shiites do. It’s a sign of just how sectarian-ly divided Bahrain is. This human rights commission has heard of 8,800 complaints, some of which will be genuine, some of which will not be. They’ve had over 5,700 interviews and it’s headed by five commissioners with great experience of investigating human rights abuses in places like Iraq, the Balkans. They’re no fools. They’ve been pretty thorough. When they come out with their findings on October 30 this really is going to be a watershed. The US congress, for example, is going to be taking a very close look at this human rights report because that will impact on the US decision of whether or not to go ahead with $50 million plus worth of arm sales to Bahrain.
Mullins: That’s the BBC’s Frank Gardner in London speaking to us about what is a very complex situation in Bahrain right now. He was recently there and went to a police detention facility.
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