MANAMA Bahrain is installing video cameras in police stations in an attempt to clean up its human rights image after the crushing of a pro-democracy uprising last year.
But the cameras, introduced after an inquiry led by international jurists uncovered five deaths under torture last year, will not be installed in at least five riot police bases where activists say youths have been beaten.
At al-Hoora station in Manama, closed circuit television will record police interrogations in rooms with padded grey walls. Rooms without cameras are set aside for detainees to consult lawyers. Other areas of the station are also monitored.
"We chose the color grey because it's an international standard and it calms people. Anyone in a state of violence has to be calmed down," said Brigadier Mansour Alhajeri, a police officer conducting a tour for journalists.
He said seven other stations were being fitted with the monitoring system and all 33 stations would be covered by October.
Police chief Tareq al-Hassan was asked about the absence of cameras in the bases from where riot police using jeeps and armored vehicles move to handle protests. "They don't detain anyone, any arrests will be handed over to police," he said.
The United States, which regards Bahrain as an ally in its conflict with Iran, has held up arms sales, including anti-tank missiles and armored humvees, until the Gulf island state shows progress in implementing human rights reforms.
Bahrain has been in turmoil for more than a year as opposition parties dominated by the Shi'ite majority population demand an end to the Al Khalifa family's hold on power and Shi'ite youths clash daily with Sunni-dominated riot police, many of them foreign hires.
Police say they show restraint in the face of rioters who attack them with petrol bombs and iron bars. But opposition and rights activists say 32 civilians have died since June, many from the effects of tear gas or direct hits by tear gas canisters and sound bombs.
The government questions the causes of death and their attribution to the political conflict.
The U.N. High Commission on Human Rights said this week it was concerned about a disproportionate use of force and excessive use of tear gas and would investigate the death toll.
Riot police backed by an overhead helicopter stormed the village of Shahrakan on Thursday when demonstrators gathered after the funeral of Sabry Mahfoud, who activists say died after he inhaled tear gas.
The demonstrators chanted "Down with Hamad", the main slogan of the uprising that broke out on February 14, 2011, and threw petrol bombs at police.
Bahraini rights activists list three informal detention centers where Shi'ite youths are beaten up by riot police before release, while others are beaten in the street.
"More than 160 people have been beaten in these places," said Mohammed al-Maskati, head of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, naming one site as a youth hostel in Sanabis which police acknowledge has been transformed into a riot police base.
Maskati said abuse had moved out of the range of cameras.
"In the past four months I never heard of anyone abused in a police station. They are hit before they reach there, that is the technique they use now," he said.
John Timoney, a former Miami police chief hired to advise on the reforms, acknowledged that monitoring of detainees before they arrive in police stations was a relevant concern.
"If an arrest is effected, they should be taken to the nearest police station in that area. I take your point - police officers are directed to take them to the nearest police station," he said when questioned at a news conference.
He added: "If anybody has any information on secret locations of that nature, we want to hear it."
A 16-year-old was abducted on Wednesday in Sanabis and found unconscious several hours later with his hands tied, underpants removed and trousers pulled down. His family filed a complaint to public prosecutors, blaming plainclothes detectives.
The interior ministry said it was investigating the incident.
(Reporting by Andrew Hammond; Editing by Alistair Lyon and Robert Woodward)