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For Immediate Release

On Eve of One-Year Anniversary of Protests, Bahrain Should Support Freedom of Expression

Cambridge, Mass. - 02/13/2012

As the international community looks to Bahrain on the one-year anniversary of the popular protests in the country, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) today called on the Government of Bahrain to support freedom of expression and resist a violent response to protests.

One year ago, on February 14, 2011, the people of Bahrain gathered to protest peacefully the lack of political freedoms in the country. The government’s response was brutal – protesters were arrested, detained, tortured, and killed. First responders to injured protesters – doctors, nurses, and medical technicians – were systematically attacked because of their efforts to provide care to those in need. In April 2011, PHR found that government forces violated medical neutrality by targeting medical professionals, militarizing the health system, and keeping those in need of care from accessing medical services.

“Over the past year, the Bahraini government has repeatedly promised that reforms are on the horizon but the government’s actions have been the polar opposite,” said Hans Hogrefe, Chief Policy Officer at PHR. “We have watched as the government continues its crackdown on civilians and denies access to human rights groups and other outside observers. The government has been using tear gas to attack civilians and Bahraini civil society groups have documented deaths that have resulted from these attacks. Some victims have even been young children.”

The Government also continues its harassment of medical professionals. Medics who treated protesters and were then arrested, tortured, and charged with attempting to overthrow the government are still on trial. Even though the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, a commission instated by the King of Bahrain, found evidence of such torture, the Bahraini government has not thrown out the confessions that resulted from torture. No genuine effort to investigate and prosecute those responsible for torture and other crimes has yet begun in Bahrain.

PHR calls on the Government of Bahrain to demonstrate a genuine commitment to reform. The increased international attention surrounding the one-year anniversary of the popular protests provide an opportunity for the Government to show the changes it has made since February 14, 2011. Key benchmarks the Government should meet in order to take significant steps toward reform include:

  • Thoroughly and independently investigating and prosecuting alleged perpetrators of torture, killings, and other crimes
  • Allowing the fullest extent of freedom of expression
  • Allowing independent human rights monitors in the country
  • Undertaking a genuine national dialogue with all stakeholders in order to promote democracy in Bahrain.

“The Government of Bahrain still has a chance to show the international community that it is committed to reform and fair treatment of its citizens, and now is the time,” said Hogrefe. “And the international community has the chance to show that it wants more than words.”

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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