U.S. report slams Bahrain for repressing Shi'ites

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 08, 2011 1:44 PM

DUBAI (Reuters) - Sunni-ruled Bahrain was guilty of human rights abuses including arbitrary detentions, censorship and discrimation against majority Shi'ites before its violent crackdown on street protests, the United States said on Friday.

Bahrain last month saw the worst sectarian clashes since the 1990s after protesters, inspired by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, took to the streets, prompting the government to impose martial law and invite in troops from Sunni-ruled neighbors.

"Discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, nationality, and sect, especially against the Shia (Shi'ite) majority population, persisted," the U.S. State Department said in its Human Rights Report for 2010.

"Authorities arbitrarily arrested activists, journalists, and other citizens and detained some individuals incommunicado... The government restricted civil liberties, including freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, and some religious practices," it said.

The report cited allegations of mistreatment and torture, especially of activists and said Shi'ites were under-represented in the civil service, police and security forces.

The government censored stories especially those related to sectarianism, national security, or criticism of the royal family, the Saudi royal family, or the judiciary, it said.

"According to some members of the media, government officials contacted editors directly and asked them to stop writing about certain subjects or asked them not to publish a press release or a story," the U.S. report said.

Shi'ites, who make up at least 60 percent of the population, have long complained of discrimination when competing for jobs and services. They are demanding better representation and a constitutional monarchy, but radicals calling for an overthrow of the monarchy alarmed the Sunni minority.

On Friday, Human Rights Watch denounced what it called arbitrary detentions and said freed detainees interviewed reported incidents of beatings and abuse. The U.S.-based rights group called on Bahrain to give a reason for all detentions.

(Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Louise Ireland)