UN human rights official calls for Bahraini retraction after news agency distorted her words

BEIRUT // The United Nations' top human rights official has called on Bahraini authorities to retract a statement published by the state news agency that "grossly misrepresented" her, according to her office.

The state-run Bahrain News Agency (BNA) said on Saturday that Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), had recognised that "misinformation" had been spread about the crisis in the kingdom.

However, in a statement released yesterday, Ms Pillay's spokesperson described the BNA account of a meeting held with Bahraini officials as a "distortion of her words".

"The Bahrain News Agency, which was not present at the meeting, stated that the High Commissioner had 'recognised misinformation' about the Kingdom of Bahrain, and quoted her as saying 'Certain information which we received about the developments in Bahrain are untrue'," Rupert Colville said in the statement. "She will formally request the government officials who attended the meeting to issue a correction."

The meeting took place in Geneva on Friday and was held to discuss a proposed UNHCHR visit to Bahrain, which has been rocked by anti-government protests since February. The uprisings were, however, quashed by security forces.

King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa last week announced plans for a national dialogue with members of the opposition due to take place early next month. The announcement came a day before the country's state of emergency, in place since March, was lifted.

Despite outward conciliatory moves, opposition groups say that peaceful protests have once again been met with violence by security forces. Opposition activists also said police broke up Shiite religious processions held in various locations around the country on Sunday, using tear gas, rubber bullets, sound grenades and birdshot.

"The targeting of processions is a flagrant violation of freedom to practice religious rites," said a statement by five senior Shiite clerics, including Sheikh Issa Qassim.

Brigadier Tariq bin Dayna, Bahrain's head of public security, said "action" was taken against "small groups [that] broke the law to conduct rallies in which violating political slogans were chanted", BNA reported yesterday.

Meanwhile, some of the 48 doctors, nurses and paramedics on trial in a military court for their alleged role in the uprising in February and March, have not had access to their lawyers, according to relatives and legal counsel.

They are facing charges ranging from incitement against the government to seizing control of Salmaniya Medical Complex, the island's main hospital, where some are also accused of storing weapons. A government official said that the lawyers would be allowed to see their clients before a hearing next Monday.

Relatives of some of those being held said some detainees have complained of torture. Authorities have previously denied allegations of abuse and said that such claims would be investigated.

In Washington, Barack Obama, the US president, was scheduled to meet Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa of Bahrain yesterday at the White House.

The meeting, which was also due to be attended by Tom Donilon, the national security adviser, was kept off the official White House schedule in a sign of the sensitivity surrounding US diplomacy on Bahrain.

Crown Prince Salman is seen as a reformer in Washington. His visit comes after the lifting of the state of emergency in the kingdom, which was seen as a positive step in Washington.

* Omar Karmi contributed to this report from Washington

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