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UN rights experts tell Bahraini govt. to end crackdown on activists, free speech

In this file picture, Bahraini forces arrest a protester during demonstration against the ruling Al Khalifah regime in the village of Shakhurah, west of Manama. (Photo by AFP)

United Nations human rights experts have called on the Bahraini government to put an end to the repression of activists, restrictions on freedom of speech and discrimination against women.

The Human Rights Council's Special Procedures, a panel composed of 18 independent experts, voiced its concern over the increasing violations of human rights in the tiny Persian Gulf island country in a statement on Thursday.

The panel, which upholds compliance with a landmark treaty on civil and political rights, expressed concern over the growing use of violence by Bahraini police during peaceful protest rallies in recent years, “including reports indicating six fatal incidents during demonstrations and ten other extrajudicial killings in 2017.”

Thousands of anti-regime protesters have held demonstrations in Bahrain on an almost daily basis ever since a popular uprising began in the country in mid-February 2011.

They are demanding that the Al Khalifah regime relinquish power and allow a just system representing all Bahrainis to be established.

Manama has gone to great lengths to clamp down on any sign of dissent. On March 14, 2011, troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were deployed to assist Bahrain in its crackdown.

Scores of people have lost their lives and hundreds of others sustained injuries or got arrested as a result of the Al Khalifah regime’s crackdown.

The UN panel said that Bahraini authorities “should also ensure that the rights to a fair trial and access to justice are respected in all criminal proceedings for terrorism.”

It also touched upon the cases of a number of detained activists, including Nabeel Rajab, a leading figure in pro-democracy protests who was sentenced by the Supreme Criminal Court to five years in jail in February for criticizing Saudi Arabia's ceaseless airstrikes against Yemen and accusing Bahrain's prison authorities of torture. The 53-year-old activist is already serving a two-year sentence.

“The Committee is also concerned about reports that (Bahrain) has targeted the Al-Wasat newspaper, which was said to be the country’s only semi-independent paper, including suspending its print and online publication, leading to its definite closure in 2017,” the panel said of the opposition-linked paper.

The UN body also strongly urged Manama to make efforts to repeal all discriminatory provisions against women in its legislation, adding that Bahraini authorities should ensure that women have equal rights with men in divorce, including economic rights.

On March 5, 2017, Bahrain’s parliament approved the trial of civilians at military tribunals in a measure blasted by human rights campaigners as being tantamount to imposition of an undeclared martial law countrywide.

Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah ratified the constitutional amendment on April 3 last year.

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