In Bahrain, Report Details Abuses During Uprising

The U.S. State Department says it's urging the government of the Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain to act on the findings of a major human rights report that has just been issued. That report details the abuses that took place during and after a mass uprising in Bahrain that was styled after movements in Tunisia and Egypt. The report was commissioned by the government itself and assembled by a team of international legal experts. But it remains to be seen whether it will lead to real reform and dialogue between the ruling Sunni monarchy and the Shiite majority.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. The U.S. State Department says it is urging the government of Bahrain to act on the findings of a major human rights report. The Persian Gulf kingdom was the subject of that report that's just been issued. It details the abuses that took place during and after a mass uprising that was styled after movements in Tunisia and Egypt. The report was commissioned by the government itself, and assembled by a team of international legal experts. NPR's Kelly McEvers is on the line from Bahrain. She joins us now. Hi, Kelly.

KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: Hello.

INSKEEP: So what did the international experts find?

MCEVERS: This report is pretty incredible. It's a 500-page report that lists, sort of in detail, the abuses that took place here in Bahrain during and after the protests: detentions; torture inside of detentions - you know, people being beaten with rubber hoses, sleep-deprived, insulted, threatened with rape; people who got fired from their jobs in the thousands - people who opposed the government; houses of worship that were torn down, you know, as a way of what they called collective punishment for anyone who opposed the government.

And then what it did was, it issued a lot of recommendations for the government of Bahrain to try to reconcile what's happened.

INSKEEP: There was fear of a whitewash, I guess, because the government had commissioned this, but it doesn't sound like it was. Now, what were the reactions to this?

MCEVERS: Well, the report was presented in this sort of public way at the palace, to the king of Bahrain. His reaction was a bit defiant. He kind of maintained that, you know, these abuses were committed by, you know, a handful of bad apples, and were mainly the responsibility of outside interlopers like Iran. But you have opposition groups who are actually pretty happy with how detailed the report was.

What they said they wish they could have seen was a more, you know, naming names - you know, who was responsible for this abuse - because what they say is that if you don't do that, it basically gives security forces license to continue. And that's actually what we saw yesterday, in a small village in Bahrain that's known to oppose the government.

A man died under questionable circumstances. Protesters came out into the streets. Riot police immediately showed up and chased protesters into a house, and began firing tear gas. And listen to this tape, and hear what happened next.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

MCEVERS: That's right here, outside our door. OK, now we're hiding.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

MCEVERS: They're shooting in the house.

So this is tear-gas canisters being fired at very close range, so close that they were ripping holes into the walls of the house.

INSKEEP: Kelly, I can't go on without mentioning you were in that house.

MCEVERS: Yes, yes. I was.

INSKEEP: And what was that like, those bangs we hear? What were you seeing as those sounds took place?

MCEVERS: I saw a group of terrified people - you know, old women, relatives of the man who died - cowering in the corner, you know, getting vinegar ready to deal with the tear gas. The thing about this is, they told us: This is what we deal with every day.

INSKEEP: And the shells went in through - what, the windows, the walls?

MCEVERS: It came up over the top wall, through a balcony.

INSKEEP: And how were people at the end of that?

MCEVERS: Shaken, fearful. I mean, this is what people say in Bahrain. They say, look, you can issue a report. You can talk about turning the page of history and say that you want to move on. But if this kind of activity still takes place, then it shows that the government still believes it's firmly in control, and believes that it can control people with fear, you know.

Tear gas isn't deadly. But to surround someone's house and keep people under siege and basically say, you can't come out of your house until we say so - that tells you who's in charge.

INSKEEP: Does that undermine any protestation the government then would be making about how they're going to deal seriously with the concerns raised by this report on the same day that they're tear-gassing people?

MCEVERS: I mean, there's no question that it does. You have government officials coming out in full force. I mean, they're offering interviews left and right, you know. We're getting inundated in our email boxes - we journalists - with, you know, government officials trying to take steps to show how much they honor this report and want to move toward reconciliation. But what happened last night, and what is continuing to happen in villages around Bahrain, shows that the reconciliation is not there yet.

INSKEEP: You said continuing to happen. More protests are expected?

MCEVERS: Yes. There were scattered protests last night. There will be a funeral for the man who was killed yesterday. Those generally turn into protests today. But what you're seeing is these protests are confined to the villages. You know, this is what a crackdown does. If you arrest thousands of people, fire thousands of people, detain them, torture them, no matter what kind of a report you issue or apology you issue later, you know, it's pretty clear to people that going out in mass numbers is going to end up very badly. And so you're not - probably not going to see mass protests in Bahrain again.

INSKEEP: NPR's Kelly McEvers is in Bahrain. Thanks very much.

MCEVERS: Sure.

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