Bahrain: Leading human rights activist describes riot police attack

A prominent Bahraini human rights activist has told Amnesty International how he was injured when security forces attacked peaceful protesters in Manama on Friday evening. Nabeel Rajab, the director of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, was hospitalized after a group of police punched him and used truncheons to beat him in the face, back and elsewhere.The attack happened near Rajab’s car after riot police had fired tear gas at protesters marching along Manama’s Bab al-Bahrain Street to call for the release of political prisoners. “I fell on the ground but they continued to beat me – they even stamped on me and kicked me,” Nabeel Rajab told Amnesty International after being treated for his injuries at Salmaniya hospital late on Friday night. “This went on for a few minutes and then a senior officer recognized me and intervened. He asked the others to stop and he helped me. I was taken to Salmaniya hospital, where I was treated for about three hours. I have a lot of bruises on my back and on my face.”Nabeel Rajab told Amnesty International he intends to file an official complaint about the assault. On Saturday, the state-run Bahrain News Agency issued a statement in response to the incident, linking to a video of the demonstration which they claim shows that Nabeel Rajab wasn’t seriously injured. In the video, Rajab can be seen seated on the ground before being helped to an ambulance by police, but the footage does not show how he sustained his injuries. The human rights defender had been participating in a large, peaceful march along Manama’s Bab al-Bahrain Street, calling for the release of political prisoners being held in relation to pro-reform protests that began in February 2011. Security forces responded to the march and, when protesters ignored orders to disperse, they broke up the crowd by firing tear gas. Amnesty International said the security forces in Bahrain unnecessarily used force when they fired tear gas to disperse the protesters, despite government pledges to implement reforms recommended in November, when a team of international jurists published a key report on the crackdown on protests. The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry – chaired by Egyptian jurist Cherif Bassiouni – prescribed wide-ranging change that included decriminalizing public gatherings.  “The Bahraini security forces’ ongoing violent attacks on peaceful protesters fly in the face of official pledges to make amends and to implement the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry’s recommendations,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director at Amnesty International. “Attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters must not be tolerated, and those responsible for Friday’s violence must be held accountable for their actions.”