Bahrain on Wednesday set up an independent committee of legal experts to investigate the bloody unrest during anti-regime protests in February and March, state news agency BNA reported.
Ordered by King Hamad, the five-man panel will be chaired by Mahmud Sharif Bassiouni, an international expert in criminal law.
The commission, which must submit its findings by October 30, will have “free access to any person it deems useful,” including representatives of civil society, the opposition and “the alleged victims and witnesses of alleged violations of human rights,” according to the decree, seen by the BNA.
“The government should not interfere in any way in the work of the commission,” which may recommend “to try any person, including officers or employees” involved in the abuse in order to “prevent a repeat of events” in the tiny Gulf kingdom.
The panel “will be comprised of eminent persons with extensive expertise in international human rights law, who have no role in our government, nor in our political sphere. They have been chosen because of their personal stature and international achievements,” the edict said.
It will include Philippe Kirsch, a Canadian lawyer and former president of the International Criminal Court (ICC), and Sir Nigel Rodley Simon, member of the UN Commission for Human Rights.
The king also decreed that cases not yet heard by military National Safety Courts will be referred to civil courts, and that verdicts issued by the former may be appealed.
The announcements come ahead of Saturday’s scheduled opening of a national dialogue convened by the king to revive political reforms following the repression of protests. The Shiite opposition has not yet confirmed whether it will participate in the dialogue.
Bahrain’s military prosecutor also announced Wednesday the release of “medical staff and athletes accused of misdemeanours” during the anti-regime protests, adding they must be tried in a state of freedom “according to the procedures in place.”
“Out of 30 athletes and sports officials detained, fifteen were released,” said one Manama source, adding that “others should be released today or tomorrow (Thursday).”
“The authorities concerned have released some detainees,” King Hamad told his cabinet, acknowledging that “it is the citizens’ right to express themselves through peaceful means.”
Despite an apparent calm in Bahrain, tensions are high in the kingdom, where the Shiite majority has been hardest hit by a wave of layoffs and law suits that has been denounced by human rights organisations.
Twenty-four people died during the repression of popular protests between mid-February and mid-March, according to official figures from Manama. Four protesters have since died in custody.