Bahrain's king pledges to press on with reforms
DUBAI - Bahrain's King Hamad pledged on Tuesday to press on with political reforms, more than a year after quelling a Shiite-led uprising, even as the UN rights office criticised the Gulf kingdom for its ongoing suppression of dissent.
Speaking in Manama after receiving a report on progress made to implement the recommendations of an international probe into last year's crackdown on protests, the monarch said the implementation "reflects Bahrain's commitment to reform in all fields."
He also said the "doors to dialogue were, and remain, open," without, however, referring to a call by the opposition for a "serious" dialogue to end the country's political deadlock.
King Hamad, whose Sunni Muslim Al-Khalifa dynasty rules the Shiite-majority kingdom, insisted that security is a must for reform and sovereignty.
He warned that the kingdom will not tolerate foreign intervention, in an apparent reference to Iran, which Bahrain accuses of meddling in support of the Shiites.
"Security and stability are a major pillar for growth, progress and reform, and what harms the country's stability affects its sovereignty and opens the door to foreign intervention," he said.
King Hamad warned that Bahrain "will never give up" on its sovereignty.
Ironically, the king welcomed troops from Saudi Arabia and other Sunni countries in the Gulf to help crush last year's Shiite-dominated protests.
"The clock will not tick backwards," he said, hailing his troops and the Gulf forces for "protecting vital installations" since the brutal crackdown,
Some 35 people were killed in the unrest last year, including five security personnel and five detainees tortured to death, according to an independent commission ordered by the king last June, and tensions have since remained high.
The National Commission's report claimed on Tuesday that progress has been made in reforming the country's police, judiciary, social policy, education system and media, accounting for past actions and reconciliation.
The reforms included a new police code of conduct and training, as well as the inspection of detention centres by the Red Cross, after the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry said in November that excessive force had been used and detainees tortured.
Steps have also been taken to recruit 500 policemen from all parts of Bahrain's society, according to a government statement.
Judicial measures included establishing an "independent body within the public prosecution" to oversee investigations into deaths, torture, abuse and mistreatment, while all charges related to "free speech" have been dropped, benefiting 334 people.
In terms of reconciliation, the report said the government had began rebuilding 12 places of worship, after Shiite complaints about the demolition of many mosques last year.
In addition, the report said all public sector workers had been reinstated and private firms "successfully encouraged" to take back most Shiites sacked for supporting the protests.
But the UN rights office on Tuesday challenged Bahrain's claimed progress on reforms, criticising Bahraini forces for their "disproportionate use of force" in quelling protests in recent months.
It cited reports by NGOs saying their use of tear gas may have led to more than 30 deaths over the past year.
"The use of tear gas in particular has reportedly resulted in a number of deaths of protestors and bystanders, and that number has reportedly risen in recent months," said Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.