11-year-old Bahraini 'protester' released from prison

11-year-old Bahraini boy Ali Hasan has been freed from jailed Credit: ITV News

For Bahrain's children, some lessons are harsh and begin early.

Ali Hasan is eleven years old and his family reckon that makes him this troubled kingdom's youngest political prisoner.

He tells me he was arrested at gun point by plain clothed police who threatened to shoot him if he ran away.

I ask him the obvious question: "Of course I was scared,'' he says, though his eye speaks more of bewilderment at the whole affair.

Bahrain's authorities say Ali was caught setting fire to tyres; creating the burning barricades that accompany the violence that has continued more or less unbroken for the past sixteen months.

Ali insists he was an innocent by-stander, but what is not disputed is he then spent a month in detention; his family permitted to visit him for just half an hour each week.

"I couldn't believe they put him in prison,'' his father tells me. "He's eleven. And a month in prison. Why?''

The case has drawn yet more unflattering headlines for a regime whose human rights record is a huge embarrassment to its western friends, Britain and the United States.

Bahrain is an unfinished chapter of the Arab Spring, often overlooked by an outside world focused on the carnage engulfing Syria.

Bahrain isn't Syria; but the problems seem just as intractable.

The divisions between the majority Shia Muslim community and the Sunni minority who rule through the Khalifa royal dynasty seem sharper than ever.

So change needs to come, and it needs to come quickly. So the government has sought help from outside.

The man charged with overhauling a police force routinely accused of heavy handed and sometimes lethal tactics is John Timoney.

He's a hard-boiled former US police chief; the archetypal tough cop with an even tougher job.

"I'm convinced they're serious about reform. If I wasn't convinced I wouldn't be here,'' he tells me.

He rejects the allegation that the police are too eager to shoot salvos of tear-gas and shot-gun pellets and peaceful protestors.

Most times, he says, the police are provoked by groups of young men who come armed with petrol bombs.

But he cautions against any hope that Bahrain's police will be turned round quickly.

"This is the long-haul,'' he says. Training, organisation changes and above all imbuing the Bahraini police with a respect for human rights, "will take a decade.''

Trouble is; time isn't on anyone's side in Bahrain.

As for Ali, he's due in court next week. His lawyer tells me that a guilty verdict might mean more weeks behind bars.