A new dawn for Bahrain's civil defence, progress in the overhaul of the police force, the dangers of homemade weapons used by protesters and the Iranian threats to the region were key points discussed during a frank interview Akhbar Al Khaleej Editor-in-Chief Anwar Abdulrahman had with His Excellency the Minister of Interior.
Bahrain will never combat terrorism with terrorism and totally rejects killings and torture, HE the Minister pledged in a wide-ranging and frank interview.
He dismissed claims that top police officials had tortured inmates in custody or were responsible for killing protesters during the height of last year's unrest. "First of all, torture and killings are not part of our country's policy," he said. “We have never issued any orders or instructions regarding this and we have also never received such orders. Any officer accused of such charges would be tried in the court," he said.
HE the Minister claimed that terrorist acts had overwhelmed the Kingdom since the unrest started and had led police to take preventive instead of defensive action. "We don't combat terrorism with terrorism, but ensure that we deal with terrorist acts by implementing the law and taking preventive measures to foil such acts," he said.
HE the Minister said: "We work round the clock gathering information and beefing up security in potential trouble spots to stop terrorist groups from carrying out their plans. We have also identified several suspects, published their names and some have been arrested."
It follows the criticism of defensive measures used by the riot police, such as tear gas, during clashes with protesters. Al Wefaq National Islamic Society has filed a lawsuit in a Bahrain court against the Ministry, claiming the tear gas used was poisonous. However, HE the Minister affirmed the gas was not dangerous. He also raised questions about the weapons used by some protesters against police, saying they put civilian lives at risk.
"The Interior Ministry did receive a complaint from Al Wefaq about police using poisonous gas," he said. "But when we were about to respond, they (Al Wefaq) had already taken us to court and an internal committee has been formed to investigate the matter. However, I assure everyone that the gas police use is tear gas which is used in several other countries and is not poisonous. If it was, then policemen would be the first to get affected.”
HE the Minister also asked: "What about the rioters? They try to make tear gas at home by mixing unknown substances but an investigation has never been launched to find out the kind of dangers it poses for the people or whether it is poisonous.
“And what about burning tyres? Aren’t burning tyres and setting fire to rubbish bins environmentally risky? Do they not cause pollution or put people's lives at risk? Why hasn't the society (Al Wefaq) condemned such acts and filed a complaint about the dangers they pose?
"The use of tear gas is a reaction by police to acts of violence, so why hasn't anyone focused on the actual action that has caused the police force to react this way? I am not saying that we are perfect, but at least we have registered the mistakes we made and we are rectifying them, such as launching investigations into claims that tear gas has been used inside homes.
HE the Minister also slammed accusations that Bahraini activists abroad were being threatened, saying some of them were wanted in criminal cases. He affirmed that the law protected activists in Bahrain who joined authorised rallies and had freedom of speech.
"The Interior Ministry in the past had relied on the public security law and the national security agency, but today, the responsibility lies with several separate institutions that work together to achieve justice," he said.
Meanwhile, he criticised Al Wefaq for opposing historic constitutional amendments made by His Majesty King Hamad. "Al Wefaq had proposed similar constitutional amendments during its term in parliament, which included giving parliament more powers," he said. "The constitutional amendments made included the majority of those proposed by Al Wefaq and consisted of even more legislative and monitoring rights."
He also condemned Iran for its stance on the Gulf union, saying it was blatantly interfering in the region's affairs. This comes as the Interior Ministers in the region are set to sign an agreement to establish a GCC Police Force.
"The idea of a Gulf union is not new and has always been the goal of the GCC because a union is based on common grounds among countries such as their traditions, language, culture and history," HE the Minister said.
"However, the Iranian stance towards the union is an obvious interference in our internal affairs because the union does not pose a threat to anyone, but on the contrary it aims to ensure safety and stability in the region.
"In regard to the GCC Police Force, the aim would be better coordination between the different policing agencies in the countries to exchange intelligence, face challenges and combat crime on a regional level. We will sign the agreement at the next meeting, which would pave the way for more security cooperation in the Gulf which would lead to stability."
He said that the reform of Bahrain's civil defence had reached an advanced stage. Bahrain's firemen in particular are set to undergo major training to equip them with skills to combat regional security emergencies and potential threats from Iran's nuclear reactors.
The General Directorate of Civil Defence will soon enter a new chapter of intense crisis and disaster training amid growing political and security tensions between the GCC and Iran.
It comes as part of a national strategy to overhaul Bahrain's police, train officers in human rights, set up an independent ombudsman and prevent a repeat of abuses at the hands of security forces following last year's unrest.
As a result, the Ministry says it has foiled several alleged terrorist attacks in villages across the country through investigations and preventive measures.
"The next phase demands that we focus more on the role the civil defence plays in facing possible security crises at local and regional levels such as preparations to deal with dangers of nuclear repercussions in the region, especially Iranian threats," HE the Minister said,
The police strategy comes in line with recommendations made by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report, he said. It includes revamping investigation procedures, restructuring the Ministry’s framework, setting up an independent police ombudsman and an internal affairs office, in addition to an overhaul of the general inspector's office.
The creation of a hi-tech forensics laboratory to end the culture of confession-based convictions within the next two years and plans to establish a specialist "crime academy" that will train recruits in the latest investigation techniques, are also in the pipeline.
Plans for a new Code of Conduct for the police force are also being studied, which will have a zero-tolerance policy on torture and any other type of mistreatment, including safeguarding the health of detainees. It will cover the duties of police officers, the use of force, the policing principles and the rights of policemen, among other principles. A similar Code is also being adopted by the Bahrain Defence Force.
"We are also completing work on human rights training for different departments in the police force and will include it as part of the programmes in the police academy and for training special police units," HE the Minister said.
"Also, special detention centres have been set up to remand suspects in custody who would be kept separated from convicts. We have consulted a company to install recording devices in all rooms in which suspects are questioned by officials, in addition to issuing orders to look into all cases of sacked workers."