No Iranian role found in Bahrain unrest

King ordered probe; envoy not convinced

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The head of a probe into Bahrain’s recent unrest said he found “no evidence” that Iran gave material support to the kingdom’s Shiite opposition during its 10-month uprising against the Sunni-dominated government.

Mahmoud Cherif Bassiouni, chairman of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, submitted his much-anticipated report Wednesday to King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, who established the commission in July.

In a phone interview, Mr. Bassiouni elaborated on the report’s statement that the commission “did not discover any role of the Iranian Islamic Republic” in the protests, despite government claims.

“The Iranians were propagandists,” Mr. Bassiouni said. “You can’t expect them not to want to take advantage of a situation like that. … But to say they were funding, they were agitating? We found no evidence of that. Now whether the government has [that evidence] and is not showing it to us, I can’t tell.”

In an interview Wednesday, Bahraini Ambassador to the United States Houda Nonoo defended the government’s claims of Iranian involvement. She pointed to Iranian state media provocations and official statements calling Bahrain Iran’s 14th province.

But asked for evidence of direct material support, she hedged. “We don’t have that evidence, but it’s there,” Ms. Nonoo said. “It’s not evidence you can touch or see physically, but we know it’s there.”

The commission’s 500-page report noted a raft of government abuses that rights groups have complained about since February, including midnight raids, torture and destruction of Shiite mosques.

At least 35 people have been killed in violence related to the uprising, including several members of the security forces, the Associated Press reported.

Mr. Bassiouni said the commission found that torture of detainees was “quite systematic.”

In an interview Wednesday, Bahraini Finance Minister Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Khalifa said the detainee mistreatment the report identified was “totally unacceptable,” adding that the government was prosecuting 20 officers and seeking amendments to Bahrain’s anti-torture law.

Mr. Bassiouni said senior officials had “command responsibility” for torture that occurred under their watch, adding that “the top six senior persons in the Ministry of Interior should be investigated.”

“Government officials keep saying, ‘we had instructions against this,’-” he said. “My answer is, ‘If you had instructions, how come it happened?’ Somebody wasn’t watching the store.”

“It is no excuse for a superior officer to say, ‘I didn’t know,’ when it it is the duty of that officer to know,” he said. “So if you have a situation in the Ministry of Interior where torture goes on for three months - and you’re speaking of numbers in the hundreds - there’s no way that mid-level or superior officers did not know. And if they didn’t know, they’re derelict of their duties.”

Mr. Bassiouni said he had been surprised at the frequency of “stupid” behavior by the government, citing its demolition of Shia religious buildings without building permits.

“Maybe they had some valid administrative reason, but to go out within the period of one week and destroy 30 Shia places is, to say the least, stupid,” he said.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author

Ben Birnbaum

Ben Birnbaum is a reporter covering foreign affairs for The Washington Times. Prior to joining The Times, Birnbaum worked as a reporter-researcher at the New Republic. A Boston-area native, he graduated magna cum laude from Cornell University with a degree in government and psychology. He won multiple collegiate journalism awards for his articles and columns in the Cornell Daily Sun.

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