UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Friday called on the Government of Bahrain to promptly launch an independent, effective investigation into the deaths of five protestors during a security operation last week.
On 23 May 2017, Bahraini security forces conducted a security operation in Al-Diraz Area, where supporters of Sheikh Isa Qassem, the highest Shia authority in Bahrain, had been holding a sit-in since June 2016. At least five protesters were killed and some 286 individuals were arrested. Official accounts suggest that 19 security personnel were injured. This was the third security operation in the area since December 2016 and the deadliest since March 2011. The operation came two days after a Bahraini Court had handed down a one-year-suspended sentence to Sheikh Isa Qassem on charges related to illegal funding and money laundering.
“I urge the Government to investigate the events of 23 May, in particular the loss of lives, to ensure that the findings are made public and that those responsible are held accountable,” High Commissioner Zeid said, as he also called on all sides to refrain from violence. Reports that those who died were buried without the consent of their families were also disturbing, the High Commissioner said, adding that loved ones must be allowed to perform funerals in line with their customs and traditions.
The High Commissioner also called on the authorities to release any individuals being detained for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly. Those suspected of crimes should be treated with full respect for their rights, including to due process.
Zeid expressed particular concern that the violence and arrests occurred as part of a wider crackdown on dissent in the country. On Wednesday, one of the country’s last remaining opposition groups, the National Democratic Action Society, also known as Waad, was dissolved by a court in Manama. Sources suggest that a number of activists and human rights defenders have also been summoned for interrogations in recent days, with allegations of ill treatment during the questioning. In April this year, a constitutional amendment granted military courts the right to try civilians.
“Human rights defenders working in Bahrain reportedly continue to face restrictions, intimidation, interrogations, detentions and travel bans,” Zeid said. “I urge Bahrain to choose a different path – one of engagement and dialogue, as well as accountability for violence, regardless of the perpetrator. My Office stands ready to offer technical assistance and advice on the promotion and protection of human rights in Bahrain.”