Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

The Hard Hand of King Hamad


A Bahraini national security court has sentenced four men to death for killing two police officers during the pro-democracy protests that were crushed by the authorities last month. The sentences are likely to deepen divisions between Bahrain’s Shia majority, which has been demanding greater political and civil rights, and the Sunni monarchy, backed by Saudi Arabia and the Sunni-dominated Bahraini security forces.

A further 400 people who have been detained are expected to be prosecuted, according to the state news agency. “The people are very angry,” Ali al-Aswad, a Bahraini MP, said. “This comes as a surprise as the defendants were not allowed any lawyers in court and we did not know what was going on.” He added that the government had moved quickly to try those it held responsible for the death of the two police officers, but had done nothing to investigate the killing of 26 Bahrainis, including four who died in custody, during the protests.

King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa and the Bahraini royal family appear to have adopted a policy of systematically terrorizing the Shia of Bahrain, who make up 70 per cent of the indigenous population.

The royals have directed the crackdown against Shia activists and institutions. Shia mosques and shrines are being demolished or wrecked and anti-Shia graffiti have been painted on the walls.

Mohammed Sadiq, of Justice for Bahrain, said: “I have no doubt that they [the defendants] were tortured.” He said the authorities were trying to prove that the pro-democracy movement had used violence. “They are trying to provoke people to take up arms but we are going to remain non-violent.” In addition to the four men, another three were sentenced to life imprisonment for the same offence.

The script of a Bahraini television documentary, released by the authorities last night, contained the “confessions” of the men, according to a government statement. “Today is the day when justice prevails and when the long arm of the law catches all those who betrayed the nation and undermined its security,” the documentary said.

The monarchy appears to have largely succeeded in breaking up the pro-democracy movement since it launched a counter-offensive on  March 15. It has detained doctors who treated injured demonstrators. And patients who had taken part in the protests were dragged from hospital beds, according to the US-based Physicians for Human Rights. Even waving the Bahraini flag has been treated as an offence.

The role of the condemned men in the protest rallies is uncertain. They had denied the charges. “They were activists in their villages and we think they were targeted because of their activities,” Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Centre Human Rights, was reported as saying. “This will deepen the gap between the ruling élite and the population.” Other Bahraini sources said the young men, who are all Shia, were not previously known as campaigners or activists.

Bahrain’s state news agency said the defendants had “every judicial guarantee according to law and in keeping with human-rights standards.” It did not say when the sentences would be carried out.

Relatives who attended the trial said there were discrepancies in the evidence given by the coroner and the prosecution. Three of the four policemen who died were run over by vehicles.

Last night, Bahrain’s Information Affairs Authority, said: “The verdict is a clear indication of the community’s utter condemnation of barbarous crimes and a profound commitment to the protection of precious lives, human dignity and fundamental rights regardless of [color], gender, sect and nationality.”

The Bahraini government has traditionally claimed that demands for greater rights by the Shia in Bahrain are manipulated by Iran, though US embassy cables released by WikiLeaks say there has been no evidence of this. Iran has denounced the repression in Bahrain, but there has also been an angry response from Iraq, where 60 per cent of the population is Shia and Shia religious parties dominate the government. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the spiritual leader of Iraq’s Shia, normally stays out of politics but has criticized the Bahraini government.

Eyewitnesses in Bahrain said masked riot police who raid houses often include officers with Saudi or Jordanian accents or Pakistanis who speak little Arabic. Human-rights activists said Bahrain has long imported police and soldiers.

Spinner falls silent

Bell Pottinger, the British public relations firm, represents the Bahrain government in various capacities: the firm sends out regular emails to journalists, including getting out the Manama administration’s line at the start of the opposition protests last month.

However, it was difficult to get the firm to talk about its future in the tiny Gulf state in light of yesterday’s death sentences. A call to its office in Manama was referred to the managing director in the country, Matthew Gunther-Bushell, who passed on inquiries to Lord Bell himself. Calls to his office and an email asking about the firm’s preparedness to carry on its work were not returned yesterday.

PATRICK COCKBURN is the author of “Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017
Ron Jacobs
A Theory of Despair?
Gilbert Mercier
Globalist Clinton: Clear and Present Danger to World Peace
James A Haught
Many Struggles Won Religious Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Dear Fellow Gen Xers: Let’s Step Aside for the Millennials
Tom Clifford
Duterte’s Gambit: the Philippines’s Pivot to China
Uri Avnery
The Peres Funeral Ruckus
Reyes Mata III
Scaling Camelot’s Walls: an Essay Regarding Donald Trump
Raouf Halaby
Away from the Fray: From Election Frenzy to an Interlude in Paradise
James McEnteer
Art of the Feel
David Yearsley
Trump and Hitchcock in the Age of Conspiracies
Charles R. Larson
Review: Sjón’s “Moonstone: the Boy Who Never Was”