DUBAI: Bahrain's security forces have tortured detainees held in the years following the island nation's 2011 protests despite a government promise to stop such abuses, according to a new report released Monday.
The Human Rights Watch report on Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, corresponds with accounts of abuse provided by Amnesty International and local activists. It comes as Bahrain, which has seen years of low-level unrest, has announced the seizure of explosives and weapons it links to Iran, while stripping convicts of their citizenship.
In a statement to The Associated Press, Bahrain's government said the country "is unequivocally opposed to mistreatment of any kind" and has put in more oversight on security forces.
Large-scale protests erupted in Western-allied Bahrain in February 2011, demonstrations that were led by the country's majority Shiites seeking greater political rights from the Sunni monarchy. Bahraini authorities, backed by security forces from nearby Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, crushed the rallies, but unrest continues.
The Human Rights Watch report is based on testimony offered by 14 people, who described being physically assaulted while in police or security service custody. Several quoted in the report said they suffered electric shocks and sexual abuse, while others described being hung in painful positions or being exposed to extreme cold.
In one case, a detainee in the report described an officer shoving something under his nose and being told it was "the blood of people who don't cooperate." One said officers beat his genitals with a hose and penetrated him with their fingers. Another told the New York-based rights group that officers threatened to rape his wife.
Following the 2011 protests, the government vowed to grant "no immunity" for anyone suspected of abuses.
At that time, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa listened somberly to a report issued by a government-sponsored investigator outlining how his security forces used torture and excessive force to stomp out the demonstrations.
Since then, Bahrain says it has implemented reforms, including opening a police ombudsman's office, a special unit to investigate officers suspected of abuse and a commission focused on detainee's rights.
Human Rights Watch, however, says little has changed in Bahrain.
"There have been few prosecutions for abuses relating to the serious and widespread abuses that (the investigators) documented" in 2011, the report said. "The few that have resulted have, almost exclusively, involved low-ranking officers, and have — without exception — resulted in acquittals or disproportionately light sentences."
In a letter included in the report, the inspector-general of Bahrain's Interior Ministry disputed Human Rights Watch's findings but did not address the lack of convictions.
"No human rights purpose is served by criticizing the institutions publicly before they have had the opportunity to receive and investigate the allegations," the letter from Maj. Gen. Ibrahim al-Ghaith read. "To the contrary, by doing so, you undermine their purpose and effort to protect peoples' rights."
In the Bahraini statement sent to the AP, the government said 73 security force members — "including high-ranking officers" — have been "transferred to courts on charges of mistreatment." It did not say how many were found guilty.
The report comes amid an uptick in major raids carried out by police, in which they say they've recovered large amounts of explosive material and weapons. Bahrain has charged regional Shiite power Iran with supplying the weaponry and training militants. Last month, it ordered the acting Iranian charge d'affaires out of the country.
Relations between Bahrain and Iran have been strained since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution. Bahrain blamed Iran for stirring up its 2011 protests, though the government-sponsored investigation said there wasn't "a discernable link" between the demonstrations and the Islamic Republic based on the information the government gave them.
Regarding the recent raids, Bahrain said it acted on intelligence provided to it by other nations regarding Iran.
"Western diplomats and security agencies have verified these facts, and the successful interception of explosive materials recently was due to intelligence received from Western allies," the statement said, without elaborating.
Meanwhile, the arrests of human rights activists, protesters and suspected militants have continued. In recent weeks, Bahrain increasingly has been stripping convicts of their citizenship, including a court decision Monday ordering another 12 Bahrainis lose their citizenship after being convicted of being part of a terrorist group and attempting to kill police officers.
Al Wefaq, Bahrain's largest Shiite opposition group, says before then, courts and officials have ordered at least 199 people to lose their citizenship as "a punitive measure against dissidents." Those orders can be appealed.