King of Bahrain insists his forces do not indulge in 'ethnic cleansing or genocide'
The King of Bahrain defended his record in handling anti-government protests, insisting it was not government policy "to go and kill people on the roads" and that the Bahraini security forces did not indulge in "ethnic cleansing or genocide".
Instead King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, Bahrain's Sandhurst-educated ruler, blamed Syria and Iran for "stirring up our people" and claimed the regime had evidence that Syria was training young Bahrainis to overthrow the ruling family.
Responding to the conclusions of an independent commission published last month, which found that the Bahraini police had used excessive force in suppressing anti-government protests, King Hamad vowed to implement wide-ranging reforms with the aim of establishing a "kingdom of tolerance" in the tiny Gulf state.
In an exclusive interview with The Daily Telegraph, his first since Bahrain was rocked by violent protests in February, King Hamad readily accepted the protests had been mishandled, but said this was due to individuals in the security forces rather than Bahrain's government.
"What happened was the result of individual acts, not government policy," he said. "It is not the policy of the Ministry of Interior to go and kill people on the roads. The policemen and soldiers involved in the killings did not take notice of the discipline side of matters.
"If people have done something wrong then they should be held accountable. We have removed people from positions of authority so that this does not happen again."
The King has already implemented a number wide ranging reforms following publication of last month's report by Professor Cherif Bassiouni, a former UN human rights lawyer, which concluded Bahrain's security forces had used "excessive force" against anti-government demonstrators, in which 35 people died and more than 1,600 were detained without charge. It found many detainees had been subjected to "physical and psychological torture". They had been blindfolded, whipped, given electric shocks and threatened with rape in order to extract confessions.
Twenty Bahraini police officers have been prosecuted, including those said to be responsible for the killings of five demonstrators who were tortured to death, while the head of the National Security Agency has been replaced. The group of medics who were jailed for participating in the protests have had their trials annulled and been released on bail, even though the commission found evidence that some of them had fabricated anti-Bahrain stories for the international media.
King Hamad has also hired John Yates, the former Assistant Commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police, and the former police chief from Miami to oversee a radical overhaul of the country's security apparatus.
Following talks with David Cameron at Downing Street yesterday, King Hamad said he remained committed to implementing the reforms recommended by the commission, which he personally authorised in the aftermath of the violent clashes in Bahrain.
"I care about Bahrain," he said. "Bahrain is very dear to me. I will not allow people to play around with our laws."