GENEVA — The UN rights chief called on Wednesday on the authorities in Bahrain to release protesters jailed in a crackdown and warned of a deepening mistrust between the government and its people.
Almost 3,000 were detained following Shiite-led demonstrations earlier this year and at least 700 remain in prison, according to an official Bahraini report published at the end of November.
"The Bahraini authorities need to urgently take confidence-building measures including unconditionally releasing those who were convicted in military tribunals or are still awaiting trial for merely exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression and assembly," United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said.
In March, security forces boosted by some 1,000 Gulf troops crushed a monthlong uprising in Manama's Pearl Square, epicentre of an anti-government movement that apparently took its lead from Tunisian and Egyptian protests.
A special commission appointed to probe the crackdown said 35 people were killed in the unrest, including five security personnel and five detainees who were tortured to death while in custody. Hundreds were also injured.
"We continue to receive reports of the repression of small protests in Bahrain and although some security officers have reportedly been arrested, we have yet to see any prosecution of security forces for civilian injuries and deaths," Pillay said.
Senior UN rights officials carried out a five-day visit to the Sunni-ruled kingdom, returning last Saturday.
The delegation met with government officials including the deputy prime minister as well as detainees in the Jaw prison in Manama.
"My team has come back with the message that there is a profound lack of trust in the government, and this mistrust has deepened as a result of the violent crackdown on protesters, destruction of mosques, the lack of fair trials and the lack of progress in providing redress for violations," Pillay said.
The high commissioner pledged to aid any efforts to initiate democratic reforms in the kingdom, "provided that the first critical confidence-building measures are taken".