Contrary to popular perception, especially in Western media, that Arab countries are oppressive regimes, many Arab countries defy that image and Bahrain is one of those nations. Like the UK, it has a royal head of state, there is a bicameral parliament and the rule of law prevails based on the Constitution which spells out all the freedoms citizens enjoy in the West.
And if the rights or liberties of the people are short-circuited by police there is a mechanism in place to redress those grievances. It was in this context that a number of policemen were suspended and sent for trial last week after complaints of their highhandedness were received by the authorities. Jail officials received complaints from the inmates regarding their maltreatment by the staff.
According to the Interior Ministry Undersecretary “initial investigations were conducted and a number of policemen named in the complaints were identified, suspended and the case was referred to the Public Prosecution (Special Investigation Unit).” Exactly like they would have been in any Western democratic country. Indeed Bahrain is among the few countries which have even appointed a Police Ombudsman.
The fact is that all complaints received by the Ministry’s personnel, the Special Investigation Unit, or the Police Ombudsman are investigated promptly and, where warranted, disciplinary or legal action is taken. Indeed to streamline the procedure and ensure compliance Bahrain went one step further and in 2012 issued a new code of conduct for its police personnel so they fully adhere to the principles of human rights and freedom for all citizens and expatriates. One wonders how many countries have a police code of conduct in place and of these how many have publicized it so the citizens too know the limits to police action.
The police code of conduct calls for the officers to follow ten principles which include only a limited use of force and absolutely no torture and mistreatment. It also requires them to show respect for human dignity and to make arrests in accordance with the international human rights standards. It also forbids the use of force “except when absolutely necessary.” The code is based on the principles outlines in the similar codes approved by the United Nations, and drawn up by the governments of Australia, Northern Ireland and Arab nations among others.
Thus the Bahrain government has done what was essential in the wake of the turbulent events of early 2011 when an impression was created by the Western media that the authorities were suppressing people’s legitimate aspirations. The code of conduct, which has been given wide currency, has been an essential step to building bridges of confidence between the Bahraini citizens and police, “based on the rule of law, integrity, transparency, tolerance, and the breaking of psychological barriers between them,” as the Interior Minister has said.
The suspension and impending trial of the jail staff is a step in that direction.