The global rights group Amnesty International has a fact-finding team in Bahrain this week. Members have been meeting with government officials, human rights advocates and opposition members in an effort to investigate reports that the government used undue force in its crackdown on protesters. The watchdog group is also looking into the arrests and detentions of hundreds of protesters, bloggers and activists. Said Boumedouha is a member of the Amnesty delegation and spoke by phone from Manama with VOA’s Cecily Hilleary.
Hilleary: Said, you are investigating - among other things - the reported use of force by the government and other security forces. Can you tell me anything about your findings on that particular aspect?
Boumedouha: Well, basically, we have been looking at the cases of deaths of protesters and also people who have been injured and the whole issue of policing. And it is clear that in a lot of cases there has been a lot of use of excessive force by the security forces, and some of the deaths - in fact, most of the deaths - have been caused by the use of shotguns - sometimes at a very close range. So it’s very clear, when it comes to policing, I think the security forces have a lot to do, basically.
First of all, we are asking for - because there was an investigation that was set up following an order issued by the King in February, which we have been told is investigating all the acts of violence that happened in March as well. So, there has been a lot of use of force. And sometimes, to be honest with you, sometimes unnecessary use of force.
And also, we have talked to a lot of people who live outside of Manama, and there have been quite a few incidents there of excessive use of force as well, not just in the use of shotguns, but the use of tear gas and also rubber bullets and sound bombs as well.
Hilleary: We see there’s been a crackdown on bloggers, activists, medical personnel…
Boumedouha: Well, yes, definitely, there have been a lot of arrests. We have talked to people who have relatives who have been arrested and basically they have been arrested and detained by the military. They are also being investigated by the military prosecution, which is very, very worrying, because as far as we know, these people are civilians. And in fact, a few people are being interrogated and in a very few cases - I think six people have now been formally interrogated. We hear that lawyers attended the interrogations a few days ago.
And these people - we heard there are up to 400 people detained, including eleven women and most of the leaders of the protests who were arrested in the Pearl Roundabout. But I think we also have to be careful here because I think a lot of people - we have also had meetings with government officials, and they are saying, for example, that these people who have been arrested are, as far as [Amnesty International is] concerned - we are saying that the leaders of these protests and the people who have been detained, the leaders, seven or eight people, are prisoners of conscience, and we are calling for their release. And the (the Bahraini government) are challenging that in a way and they are saying that they are not prisoners of conscience, they have been calling for an Islamic republic.
But still, if they haven’t used violence and they haven’t advocated violence, they should not be there, basically. And that includes, among those arrested, it includes medical doctors and other professions as well. But obviously, for us, what concerns us, is the manner that they have been detained and the type of rights they have. They don’t have any access to their families. Only six of them have had access to lawyers. The families don’t even know where they are held, even the lawyers don’t know where they are held.
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