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Bahrain’s ruler says his country has taken significant steps toward reforms in the months since an independent commission looked into allegations of abuse during the government’s crackdown on Arab Spring protesters.   Now, says King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, all that is needed is for these reforms to be put into place.  His remarks  followed the release of a report this week by a national commission on reform, charged with reviewing the findings of last year’s Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), which concluded that the police had used excessive force and torture in their reaction to the protests the country.

Your report, which we received today, demonstrates the impressive beginning of that positive change we had hoped to see, and are proud of. Your report concludes that our Government has made important strides on the road towards a transparent system based on democratic values. -  King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, Bahrain, March 20, 2012

Bahrain's King Hamed bin Isa Al Khalifa

King Hamad said that that the door to dialogue is and will remain open to, but he did not refer to an opposition call for “serious” dialogue to end the country’s political crisis. “Countries do not seek stability solely in the interest of economy,” King Hamad said, “but also to protect the sovereignty and integrity of the country, and we will never relinquish this at all.

In a related development, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) says it has received “disturbing” reports from sources it deems “reliable” about the continued use of tear gas, bird shot and rubber bullets against protesters and that a number of deaths have been linked to the use of tear gas fired into crowds by security forces.   The OHCHR called on the government of Bahrain to investigate these cases.  While noting that Manama has recently instituted new codes of conduct for police, the statement expressed hopes that”its implementation will be carefully monitored.”

We are also concerned about the health of human rights defenders who are on hunger strike in protest against their imprisonment for participating in last year’s mass demonstrations. In particular, human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja has been on hunger strike for 40 days now in a Bahraini jail in protest over the life sentence he was handed last summer. – UNCHCR spokesman Rupert Colville, Geneva, March 2, 2012

Abdulhadi al-Khawaja

These developments follow a recent  vote in the Parliament of the European Union condemning reported rights abuses in Bahrain.   Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) on March 15 demanded the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners. They also called on Bahraini authorities to “stop the excessive use of violence, including excessive the use of tear gas, repression, acts of torture, unlawful detention and prosecution of peaceful protestors.”

In addition, they demanded the “immediate and unconditional release of all peaceful demonstrators, political activists, human rights defenders, doctors and paramedics, bloggers and journalists who have been detained or convicted for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly or performing their professional obligations.”    They specifically named Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, who has been on an open-ended hunger strike for more than a month and whose health is reported to be rapidly deteriorating.  The Parliament also named Mahdi Abu Deeb, President of the Bahrain Teachers’ Association, who has been detained since April, 2011.

What do you think? Has King Hamad al-Khalifa gone far enough? What things should be done that are not being done or even being talked about? Add your thoughts below. Also see Lulu Live for video of recent protests and add your own.

Cecily Hilleary

Cecily began her reporting career in the 1990s, covering US Middle East policy for Dubai-TV English. She has lived and/or worked in the Middle East, North Africa and Gulf regions, consulting and producing for several regional radio and television networks and production houses, including MBC, Al-Arabiya, the former Emirates Media Incorporated and Al-Ikhbaria. She brings to VOA and MEV a keen understanding of the region's top social, cultural and political issues.

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