FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Return to Bahrain: Nine Years After the Uprisings, the Nation’s Human Rights Record Has Worsened

Photograph Source: Sean Carberry – CC BY-SA 3.0

It’s been nine years since Bahrain’s February 2011 uprising. Tens of thousands of demonstrators marched in cities and towns across the country to protest the ruling Al Khalifa family’s tight grip on power, discrimination against the country’s majority Shia population, and arrests of political critics.

The 2011 uprising itself came 10 years after the 2001 referendum in which citizens voted overwhelmingly for the National Action Charter. The charter promised key democratic reforms, including a popularly elected national assembly.

Despite the “honeymoon” after the National Action Charter’s adoption, Bahrain gradually reverted to its repressive past, and by 2010 authorities were detaining prominent opposition activists and closing opposition organizations, and reports of torture of detainees surfaced frequently.

A similar pattern played out following the last uprising.

In the years since, Bahrain’s human rights crisis has only worsened. The authorities have demonstrated a zero-tolerance policy for any free and independent political thought, and they have imprisoned, exiled, or intimidated into silence anyone who criticizes the government.

From the very beginning, Bahraini authorities carried out a systematic campaign of retribution, using lethal force to disperse protests, arresting thousands, and firing hundreds of public sector employees suspected of supporting the protesters’ democratic demands. The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, in its November 2011 report, confirmed the “existence of an operational plan” to terrorize protesters and concluded that a lack of accountability had led to a “culture of impunity.”

A case in point is that of Nabeel Rajab, one of Bahrain’s most prominent human rights defenders and a member of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East advisory committee, in prison since July 2016 due to his peaceful criticism of Bahrain’s dismal human rights record. Although Rajab should not be in prison at all, the courts have also repeatedly rejected his appeals to serve a non-custodial sentence instead of his five-year prison term.

His case is not unique. He is one of dozens of human rights defenders, political activists, opposition leaders, and journalists unjustly imprisoned since the government quelled the 2011 protests.

In October, we found that Bahraini authorities were denying high-profile political prisoners urgently needed medical care, in some cases putting their lives in danger. In one example, the health of Abduljalil al-Singace, a leading opposition figure serving a life sentence for his  role in the 2011 protests, has deteriorated significantly.

Al-Singace had polio as a child and needs crutches to walk. His daughter told us that he has severe chest pain, numbness in his fingers, and shaking in his left hand. Prison authorities have refused to take al-Singace to his medical appointments because he refuses to wear a prison uniform or shackles, which he considers humiliating. International human rights experts have said that using restraints on elderly or infirm prisoners who do not pose an escape risk can constitute inhuman or degrading treatment.

We have also documented routine torture in Bahrain’s prisons, especially during interrogations. Detainees describe electric shocks, suspension in painful positions, forced standing, extreme cold, and sexual abuse.

Bahraini prosecutors and judges use confessions obtained under torture to convict detainees, and even sentence some to death. In July, the authorities executed two men whose trial was marred by allegations of torture and serious due process violations. On January 8, the appeals court reinstated the death penalty against two others, even after a Bahraini oversight body presented evidence “raising suspicions” that the two men had been tortured.

While the authorities actively prosecute people solely for exercising their right to free speech, there have been precious few prosecutions of security personnel implicated in widespread abuses against detainees. The few prosecutions have almost exclusively involved low-ranking officers, and have — without exception — resulted in acquittals or disproportionately light sentences.

Bahrain’s allies, including the United States and United Kingdom, seem reluctant to face the reality of what’s happening in the country. During 2019, the U.S. State Department approved three major weapons sales to Bahrain worth 3.4 billion dollars, despite the government’s dismal record on human rights and relentless persecution of dissidents. The United States has also failed to publicly raise human rights concerns with Bahraini authorities.

Based on freedom of information requests, the United Kingdom has provided 6.5 million pounds of technical assistance to Bahrain since 2012, including support aimed at security and justice sector reform. Yet the oversight bodies the UK has supported have repeatedly failed to hold prison guards and officers to account, amid evidence of inhumane and degrading conditions of Bahrain’s prisons.

Bahrain’s allies need to investigate — and publicly report — how effective their arms sales and assistance to Bahrain have been. They should consider whether they should suspend their support for the security sector until Bahrain releases Nabeel Rajab and others unjustly jailed for criticizing the authorities.

Aya Majzoub is the Bahrain researcher at Human Rights Watch.

This article first appeared on FPIF.

More articles by:
bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
March 27, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Bailouts for the Rich, the Virus for the Rest of Us
Louis Proyect
Life and Death in the Epicenter
Paul Street
“I Will Not Kill My Mother for Your Stock Portfolio”
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The Scum Also Rises
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Stimulus Bill Allows Federal Reserve to Conduct Meetings in Secret; Gives Fed $454 Billion Slush Fund for Wall Street Bailouts
Jefferson Morley
Could the Death of the National Security State be a Silver Lining of COVID-19?
Kathleen Wallace
The End of the Parasite Paradigm
Ruth Hopkins
A Message For America from Brazil’s First Indigenous Congresswoman
Anthony DiMaggio
Misinformation and the Coronavirus: On the Dangers of Depoliticization and Social Media
Andrew Levine
Neither Biden Nor Trump: Imagine Cuomo
David Rosen
God’s Vengeance: the Christian Right and the Coronavirus
David Schultz
The Covid-19 Bailout: Another Failed Opportunity at Structural Change
Evaggelos Vallianatos
In the Grip of Disease
Edward Leer
Somebody Else’s World: An Interview with Kelly Reichardt
Robert Fisk
What Trump is Doing in the Middle East While You are Distracted by COVID-19
Daniel Warner
COVID-19: Health or Wealth?
Thomas Klikauer – Norman Simms
Corona in Germany: Hording and Authoritarianism
Ramzy Baroud
BJP and Israel: Hindu Nationalism is Ravaging India’s Democracy
Richard Moser
Russia-gate: the Dead But Undead
Ron Jacobs
Politics, Pandemics and Trumpism
Chris Gilbert
Letter From Catalonia: Alarming Measures
Richard Eskow
Seven Rules for the Boeing Bailout
Jonathan Carp
Coronavirus and the Collapse of Our Imaginations
Andrew Bacevich
The Coronavirus and the Real Threats to American Safety and Freedom
Peter Cohen
COVID-19, the Exponential Function and Human the Survival
César Chelala - Alberto Luis Zuppi
The Pope is Wrong on Argentina
James Preston Allen
Alexander Cockburn Meets Charles Bukowski at a Sushi Bar in San Pedro
Jérôme Duval
The Only Oxygen Cylinder Factory in Europe is Shut down and Macron Refuses to Nationalize It
Neve Gordon
Gaza Has Been Under Siege for Years. Covid-19 Could Be Catastrophic
Alvaro Huerta
To Survive the Coronavirus, Americans Should Learn From Mexicans
Prabir Purkayastha
Why the Coronavirus Pandemic Poses Fundamental Challenges to All Societies
Raouf Halaby
Fireside Chatterer Andrew Cuomo for President
Thomas Drake
The Sobering Realities of the American Dystopia
Negin Owliaei
Wash Your Hands…If You Have Water
Felice Pace
A New Threat to California’s Rivers:  Will the Rush to Develop Our Newest Water Source Destroy More Streams?
Ray Brescia
What 9/11 Can Teach Us About Responding to COVID-19
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
The Covid-19 Opportunity
John Kendall Hawkins
An Age of Intoxication: Pick Your Poison
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
The Propaganda Virus: Is Anyone Immune?
Nicky Reid
Fear and Loathing in Coronaville Volume 1: Dispatches From a Terrified Heartland
Nolan Higdon – Mickey Huff
Don’t Just Blame Trump for the COVID-19 Crisis: the U.S. Has Been Becoming a Failed State for Some Time
Susan Block
Coronavirus Spring
David Yearsley
Lutz Alone
CounterPunch News Service
Letter from Truthdig’s Editor-in-Chief Robert Scheer to the Publisher Zuade Kaufman
CounterPunch News Service
Statement From Striking Truthdig Workers
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail