Things Are Still Going Terrible in Bahrain
It’s been 21 months since the small desert island nation of Bahrain began its Arab Spring-inspired uprising. Since declaring its independence in 1971, Bahrain’s constitutional monarchy has had one prime minister, Khalidah ibn Sulman Al Khalifah, who is also the uncle of the current king and the brother of the last one. Unlike states which have been transformed by protests and revolution like Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, the Bahrain government—which is controlled by a Sunni minority and often accused of oppressing Shiites—hasn’t come close to toppling. Demonstrations in Bahrain petered out quickly last year after Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations lent the regime some troops to use in a violent crackdown against dissidents. The turmoil in other Middle Eastern countries has taken international media attention away from the human rights violations in Bahrain, but that doesn’t make the situation there any less appalling.
Last November, the Bahraini government admitted to “instances of excessive force and mistreatment of detainees.” A few days after that admission, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry—which was led by human rights expert M. Cherif Bassiouni and commissioned by King Hamad to investigate the violence—released 26 reform recommendations that the king promised to implement.
One year later and only three of those recommendations have been carried out, according to a report from the Project on Middle East Democracy. Just last month, Bahrain completely banned protesting, and a few weeks ago 31 people connected to the opposition had their citizenships revoked. To find out more about this mostly ignored crisis, I spoke with Maryam al-Khawaja, the acting president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the daughter of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, the cofounder of the organization who was sentenced to life in prison by a military court in June 2011.
VICE: Hi Maryam. How do you think human rights have changed one year after the BICI report?
Maryam al-Khawaja: It’s gotten worse. There have been five cases of people getting arrested for tweeting. Someone was imprisoned for two months for defaming the king on Twitter. There are constant attacks against people who speak out and criticize the government.
Haven’t there been some cases where the police were put on trial for using excessive force against protestors?
The very few cases that have been brought to court were all lower rank police officers. There were several cases where police officers were acquitted or found innocent in cases where they were charged in extrajudicial killings. There was only one case where an officer was found guilty—he shot someone at point-blank range and only received seven years in prison. He hasn’t been arrested or served the time despite being sentenced. If you look at the higher-level officials who should have been held accountable, most of them have held their positions or even been promoted.