Category Archives: Human Rights in Bahrain

Bahrain court upholds military court rulings against activists

Bahrain has sentenced twenty activists to prison sentences ranging from five years to life.  Among those sentenced were Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, who underwent a 110-day hunger strike earlier this year in protest of his torture and mistreatment by security and prison staff.

The Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights reported on the verdicts on the cases of twenty activists which were upheld from previous sentences by military courts today.  Charges included attempting to overthrow the government.

The sentences may be appealed to the Supreme Court in Bahrain.  Some analysts have speculated that the government is holding the activists as a bargaining chip in upcoming talks with the opposition; others posit the rulings are a concession to hardliners with the government and an attempt to send a defiant message to the U.S. and other nations who have called for clemency.

Whatever the motives, the widely-condemned sentences will surely continue to polarize the nation and obstruct dialogue.  The government’s official news media has branded the activists as “terrorists.”

The thirteen activists who are currently imprisoned were charged by the National Safety Court, a military tribunal, in June 2011 after being arrested in February and March 2011.  These trials were later deemed unlawful and have been criticized as violations of human rights.  It is acknowledged and documented that the confessions that led to the June sentences were extracted through extreme instances of torture.  Yet, today those sentences were upheld by a civilian court.

“Today’s court decision is another blow to justice and it shows once more that the Bahraini authorities are not on the path of reform but seem rather driven by vindictiveness.” Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, deputy director of Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa Programme (AFP).

Sentenced to life in prison:

  • Abdulwahab Hussain Ali
  • Abduljalil Abdullah Al Singace, Haq Movement for Liberty and Democracy
  • Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, President, Bahrain Centre for Human Rights
  • Abduljalil Mansoor Makk (Abdul Jalil Miqdad)
  • Mohammed Habib Al Safaf ( Mohammed Habib Miqdad)
  • Hassan Ali Mushaima
  • Saeed Mirza Ahmed. ( Saeed AlNouri)

Sentenced to fifteen years in prison:

  • Abdul Hadi Abdullah Mahdi Hassan ( Abdulhadi AlMukhodher)
  • Mohammed Ali Ismael
  • 
Mohammed Hassan Jawad

Sentenced to five years in prison:

  • Abdullah Isa Al Mahroos
  • Ibrahim Sharif Abdulraheem Mossa
  • Salah Hubail Al Khawaj

Seven activists were sentenced in absentia. Sentenced to life in prison was Saeed Abdulnabi Shehab.  The remaining six activists who are not currently in prison were sentenced to fifteen years:

  • Akeel Ahmed Al Mafoodh
  • Ali Hassan Abdulla (Ali Abdulemam) – blogger
  • Abdulghani Ali Khanjar
  • Abdulraoof Al Shayeb
  • Abbas Al Omran
  • Ali Hassan Mushaima


Here are some of today’s news stories on the developments.

Andrew Hammond, Reuters: UPDATE 2-Bahrain court upholds sentences on uprising leaders

Al Jazeera: Bahrain courts uphold activists’ conviction

Associated Press: Bahrain court upholds life sentences for opposition activists (appeared in Washington Post and New York Times)

Frank Gardner, BBC News: Bahrain appeal court upholds activists’ convictions

Advertisements

Bahrain Coordinating Committee calls for release of imprisoned activist Nabeel Rajab in Bahrain

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

August 17, 2012 — The Washington, DC-based Bahrain Coordinating Committee strongly condemns the prison sentence of three years on charges of illegal gathering imposed on Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab. The group condemns all forms of repression, and calls on the government and its agents to respect the universal human right of peaceful freedom of expression, along with other basic human rights.

US human rights group calls for release of imprisoned activist Nabeel Rajab in BahrainOn August 16, 2012, the Lower Criminal Court in Manama, Bahrain sentenced Rajab, president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, to three years in prison for participating in “illegal protests.” In Bahrain, a protest is illegal if it is not officially permitted by the government, and all opposition protests have been deemed “unauthorized” in recent months. The court also alleged that Rajab incited attacks against security forces. Rajab will appeal the decision.

The U.S. State Department also condemned the trial and sentence of Nabeel Rajab yesterday.

Thirteen other political dissidents, imprisoned on charges passed down by military courts during the government crackdowns on protests in 2011, remain behind bars while they wait for their sentences to be re-tried in civilian courts, per the BICI recommendations made to the government of Bahrain. Those trials were postponed until September 2012.

The government of the United States has called on the government of Bahrain to release them and anyone else detained for expressing his or her personal beliefs without violence in the Gulf nation.

About the Bahrain Coordinating Committee

The Bahrain Coordinating Committee is a Washington, DC-based grassroots movement that works to obtain U.S. support for democracy and human rights reforms in Bahrain.  More information can be found online at http://bahraincoordinatingcommittee.org

# # #

U.S. State Dept. decries sentencing of Nabeel Rajab in Bahrain

U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland addressed questions regarding the sentencing of Nabeel Rajab in Bahrain today during a press briefing.  She asserted that the State Department had urged the government not to proceed with the trial of Nabeel Rajab, and that they would prefer the sentence related to illegal gathering to be “vacated.”

“This is an inappropriate case to begin with,” stated Ms. Nuland. She also stated that she believed the Embassy had been in contact with Bahraini authorities today.

“….we’ve long made clear that it’s critical for all governments, including Bahrain, to respect freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, so we are deeply troubled by the sentencing today of Nabeel Rajab to three years in prison on charges of illegally gathering. We believe that all people have a fundamental freedom to participate in civil acts of peaceful disobedience, and we call on the Government of Bahrain to take steps to build confidence across Bahraini society and to begin a really meaningful dialogue with the political opposition and civil society, because actions like this sentencing today only serve to further divide Bahraini society.”

Another sentence is pending, regarding the activist’s Twitter messages.

 

By the numbers: an abysmal human rights record in Bahrain in July

Al-Wefaq has collected some distressing statistics about the state of human rights in Bahrain last month.  We have learned…

  • More than 240 Bahrainis were arrested, some of whom were wounded.
  • Approximately 100 people were injured by shotgun pellets, rubber bullets, projectiles, and exposure to tear gas.
  • More than 200 homes were raided by security forces, bringing the total to more than 311 in the past two months.  Security forces are especially notorious for late-night raids, intimidating families, damaging property, and “acquiring” electronics and items of value.

August is not getting off to a great start.  Zainab Alkhawaja was arrested yesterday.

Familiar refrain characterizes Posner’s remarks at Congressional hearing on Bahrain

Assistant Secretary of State (Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor) Michael Posner appeared as a witness at the Tom Lantos Commission on Human Rights hearing yesterday in Washington, DC.

In his remarks, Mr. Posner restated many of the points he has made on other occasions.  He diverged very little from the stance the State Department has taken almost from the beginning of the conflict in Bahrain.  He reiterated that the abuse of human rights in Bahrain is Bahrain’s problem to solve, praised the government’s progress toward reform, and affirmed the Administration’s partnership with the regime.  He also expressed concern about the trials and imprisonment of activists and medics, but stopped short of saying Nabeel Rajab should be released, when questioned on that point, seeming to suggest that the arrest and detention may be considered a legitimate action for some unexpressed reason.

Frustrating to this observer, Posner once again drew the  comparison between violent acts by protesters and the regime’s security forces.  It is misleading to compare a few isolated, but unfortunate, violent incidents by a small minority of protesters with the daily and systematic, full-scale assaults by the vastly more vicious and better-armed regime security forces, including unprovoked attacks on peaceful demonstrators and innocent bystanders.  There is no parity here in force or impact, nor is there any evidence of parity, yet Posner continues to call on both sides to exercise restraint with equal emphasis.

To add insult to injury, he stated that the same government that tortured its citizens, imprisoned activists, and prosecuted its doctors showed “courage” in owning up to its offenses to the world in the face of undeniable proof.

Courage is not a term that most people of conscience equate with the government of Bahrain these days.

Notably absent from his remarks were any comments on the use of tear gas, bird shot pellets, and rubber bullets, nor did he make any reference to the children and adults who had been maimed or killed by security forces and the deplorable prison conditions suffered by the unjustly imprisoned political activists.

Few were surprised when Representative Dan Burton expressed satisfaction with Mr. Posner’s remarks at the conclusion of his testimony.

The text of his testimony, plus video link, is below.


Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing and for your sustained concern about Bahrain and the current challenges there. I appreciate the opportunity to appear here today to outline the administration’s views with respect to Bahrain.

Context: Bahrain is an important strategic partner at a crossroads

We all recognize Bahrain’s importance as a longtime partner of the United States in the Gulf region. For more than 60 years, the United States military has worked closely with its Bahraini counterparts. The Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain, and the country serves as a pillar of our regional security strategy in the Gulf region. The U.S. – Bahrain relationship is particularly important in the face of rising threats from Iran.

Our longstanding alliance with Bahrain is based on shared political, economic, and security interests. And it is in part because of this important strategic relationship that we have devoted so much attention to Bahrain in the last 18 months. The demonstrations and violent confrontations that shook Bahrain last February and March were traumatic to all segments of Bahraini society. And although the violence has diminished significantly in recent months, Bahrain is still a deeply divided nation struggling to regain its equilibrium.

As partners and friends who care deeply about Bahrain’s future, we must be straightforward in our assessments. This is not a time for complacency or wishful thinking. It is a time for the United States and others to work with the government and the political opposition and to urge a new approach to dialogue, about which I will say more in a moment.

It is in this challenging political context that I have traveled to Bahrain five times in the last 18 months, most recently in June, each time meeting with senior government officials, lawyers, journalists, medical professionals, civil society groups, human rights advocates, and several political societies. This visit, my meetings focused on 1) the current situation for human rights in Bahrain following the unrest in February and March of last year, 2) the need for inclusive dialogue and negotiation, and 3) implementation of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry report.

The current situation for human rights in Bahrain

In a number of ways, Bahrain today is more stable than it was a year ago. Last year, the government showed courage in inviting Cherif Bassiouni to initiate the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI). The BICI process was unprecedented both in its scope and the unfettered access the BICI team were granted. King Hamad deserves great credit for initiating this commission and for allowing an independent body to take a critical look at Bahrain’s human rights record and to report so extensively on its findings. We also commend the King for accepting and committing to implement the recommendations of the BICI report. And after a worrying period of rising violence in the streets by both demonstrators and police, violence has subsided this summer.

Despite these positive accomplishments, my recent visit revealed deep divisions within Bahraini society and between many Bahrainis and their government. Almost nightly confrontations, including a number that end in violence between young protestors and the police, and the recent discovery of sophisticated bomb-making materials in Salmabad and Hamad Town punctuate the need for urgent action to heal the divisions in society and bring peace and prosperity to all of its people.

We are concerned that more than a year after the release of the BICI report, we see reports of continuing reprisals against Bahraini citizens who attempt to exercise their universal rights to free expression and assembly. For example, on March 31, 2012, Ahmed Ismail Hassan, a 22-year-old videographer, was shot and killed while filming a pro-reform demonstration. This is one incident in a pattern of reports of activists and demonstrators being injured and mistreated in interactions with the police.

Moreover, permits for organized demonstrations are often denied. Over the past month, Bahrain has stopped granting permits for organized demonstrations in central Manama, and has announced a study to identify suitable locations for protests away from the downtown area. While the study may be a useful opportunity to initiate constructive dialogue, including with the opposition, it must not be used as a mechanism to restrict the universal right to peaceful protest. At the same time, we urge Wifaq and others who organize demonstrations to do their utmost to ensure that those gatherings remain peaceful.

Urgent need for dialogue

Since February and March 2011 there have been numerous calls – including by Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and members of the international community – for broad political dialogue that will lead to a way forward on political reform.

While dialogue and negotiation can only occur among Bahrainis themselves, as a friend and partner of Bahrain, the United States has encouraged dialogue in a variety of different forms over the last 18 months. But despite numerous attempts, attempts at dialogue have broken down. There is little evidence that Bahrain is moving toward a negotiated political agreement on issues such as the powers of parliament and electoral districting.

On my recent visit, I observed that both people in the government and the political opposition felt that time is on their side. This is a misguided and dangerous perception. Bahrain needs dialogue and negotiation to build a strong national consensus about its political future, strengthen its economic standing, and make it a more prosperous country and a more stable ally of the United States. We are pursuing a two-track strategy to reinforce those elements within Bahraini society that are working to promote meaningful dialogue and negotiation.

On the first track, we continue to encourage the government, all political organizations, and civil society to come to the table for a broad, open negotiation about the political future of the country. The current stalemate requires bold leadership from all sides – people who are ready to negotiate now, without preconditions, and to trust the other sides to come to the table in a spirit of investment in Bahrain’s political, economic, and social future. As we have said, the country’s political future is a matter for Bahrainis to negotiate themselves. But as the government did with the BICI process, there is room to invite technical facilitation of Bahraini-led dialogue.

On the second track, we also are encouraging the government to sit down with political and civil society organizations, and ordinary citizens, to try to make progress on issues that matter to people’s everyday lives, such as safety, health, education, labor, and policing.

One positive example of this kind of engagement is the Tripartite Committee’s work with the International Labor Organization (ILO), Bahraini employers, the Bahrain Federation of Trade Unions, and the Ministry of Labor to resolve the longstanding issue of reinstatement of more than 2,000 dismissed workers. We are encouraged by the success of this effort, both in terms of a fair outcome for many of the dismissed workers and the process that led to this outcome. Working with the ILO, the different stakeholders negotiated with each other over the course of several weeks to agree on an inclusive approach for evaluating and making decisions about how to resolve the issue of dismissed workers. While there will no doubt be bumps in the road, there the partners developed a framework for making decisions that shared power among the different stakeholders.

The issue of public safety and policing practices is another area that we see as being ripe for this kind of dialogue and negotiation. We are encouraged by steps undertaken by the Ministry of Interior to initiate some institutional reforms that will make the police more accountable and professional. The change in leadership in the police under General Tariq al Hassan, a career police officer, also is an encouraging sign. We await the results of the announced plan to hire 500 new officers who represent all elements of Bahraini society. And we welcome the announcement earlier this week by the Minister of the Interior that his office will launch investigations of the human rights violations by police officers documented in the BICI report.

But it is not enough for the government to dictate solutions to problems with policing amidst ongoing reports of the abuse of tear gas, birdshot, and other disproportionate mechanisms to control crowds and silence peaceful protestors. While we have consistently condemned the use of Molotov cocktails and other violent measures by some demonstrators, we also have been consistent in our criticism of the use of excessive force by some police.

What underlies the use of excessive force by police and the use of violent tactics by protestors is a fundamental lack of trust between the police and the people whom the police are meant to serve. Trust can only begin to be established through genuine dialogue between the police and the communities they serve. We encourage the government to take the lead in establishing a forum or a process – perhaps with outside technical facilitation – for discussion of public safety and policing practices.

One model we have discussed regularly with the government and others is the Patten Commission, which worked over the course of several years to redefine the mission and practices of police in Northern Ireland. For such a process to work, citizens, community and religious leaders, and civil society organizations must be willing to engage with the government and the police to begin rebuilding the trust that will lead to genuine stability and peace in Bahraini communities.

BICI implementation

The United States continues to encourage the Government of Bahrain to fulfill its commitment to fully implement the recommendations of the BICI report. We understand that full implementation will take time. We commend the government for the initial steps it took toward implementation, particularly in the period leading up to the release of the National Commission report in March 2012.

The Government of Bahrain has taken many important steps toward the long-term institutional reforms identified in the report, such as removing arrest authority from the national security agency, drafting legislation concerning the investigation and prosecution of torture, and drafting a code of conduct for police based on international best practices. The government also has allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross access to its prisons. It has begun to rebuild religious sites, and engaged a team of qualified experts to advise on policing and legal reforms. These are signs of the government’s commitment to address the underlying cause of last year’s violence.

The Government of Bahrain needs to take action on the full range of other BICI recommendations that we believe will help lay the foundation for longer-term reform and reconciliation. These include dropping charges against all persons accused of offenses involving peaceful political expression including freedom of assembly, prosecuting those officials responsible for the violations identified in the BICI report, and ensuring fair and expeditious trials in appeals cases. It also means continuing work to professionalize and diversify Bahrain’s security forces to reflect the communities which they serve.

First, there are several hundred pending criminal cases related to the events of February and March 2011. Many individuals have been in detention for over a year. The government continues to prosecute 20 political activists and appeals cases are ongoing in the prosecution of respected medical professionals. In addition to the ongoing cases against doctors and nurses, we are discouraged by the Court of Appeals’ decision to issue a gag-order banning the media from reporting on trials for the 20 high-profile activists. We urge the Government of Bahrain to ensure fair and expeditious trials in appeals cases and to drop charges against all persons accused of offenses involving political expression and freedom of assembly.

The United States was deeply disappointed that, despite assurances to the contrary, the government sought and received convictions in nine of 18 felony cases against medical professionals before the appellate court, with sentences ranging from one month to five years. While we are not privy to all of the facts, we have consistently urged the government to exercise prosecutorial discretion in these cases and to drop the charges in the interest of turning the page on the events of last year.

The prosecution of these cases is a sign of larger divisions within the health care system in Bahrain. I was alarmed to hear reports from all sides of Bahraini society during my recent visit about the tense environment for medical care in Bahrain. Young men often elect not to seek treatment in public clinics and hospitals when they are injured for fear of being turned in to the police by their doctors on allegations of participating in demonstrations. I also heard that Shi’a Bahrainis now only seek treatment from Shi’a doctors and Sunnis only seek treatment from Sunnis. And the ongoing felony cases against some of Bahrain’s most highly specialized doctors means the country is facing a shortage of talent in critical specialties. There is much work to be done to heal the divisions in the health care system and restore the reputation of Bahrain as a regional leader in medical services.

Second, we call on the Government of Bahrain to hold accountable those officials responsible for the violations described in the BICI report. At the beginning of the year, the government reported that 48 people from the security forces were being investigated for their roles in suppressing protests. So far only nine policemen – five Pakistani and one Yemeni national and three Bahrainis – are known to have been brought to trial for human rights violations. Very little information has been made public about how these investigations were conducted and their trials have been repeatedly adjourned and postponed.

Third, as discussed above, further efforts need to be made to enhance the professionalization of the police. Ongoing violence in the streets between police and protesters points to the need for professional, integrated police and security forces that reflect the diversity of the communities they serve and that adopt a community policing approach.

Bahrain and the Arab Awakening

In conclusion, I want to say a word about Bahrain in the context of the Arab Awakening and the transitions occurring in places like Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. Many people wish to compare Bahrain to other countries in the region such as Tunisia or Egypt. While some comparisons may be valid, it also is very important to recognize the unique history and political and economic development in each of these countries, and to shape our policies accordingly. President Obama has said that stable, democratic societies make the best partners and allies. And so while there is no single path or timetable to forging a real democracy, there are a core set of underlying principles that, as Secretary Clinton recently noted “have to be enshrined not only in the constitution, not only in the institutions of government, but in the hearts and minds of the people.”

Our aim is to encourage all sides to come to the table so that meaningful dialogue and negotiation can get underway in a process that will begin to heal existing divisions within the society and set Bahrain on a course toward greater freedom and prosperity for all Bahrainis. As a partner and friend, the United States stands ready to support the government and the people of Bahrain as they seek pathways toward meaningful dialogue about the future of the country.

Report on today’s Tom Lantos Commission for Human Rights Hearing

A hearing on the state of progress on the BICI recommendations for the Kingdom of Bahrain was held on Capitol Hill this afternoon by the Tom Lantos Commission for Human Rights.  The last time the Commission met was 14 months ago.

Who Was There

Witnesses included co-chairs Representative Jim McGovern (D, MA) and Representative Dan Burton (R, IN) and Senator Ron Wyden (D, OR).  Michael Posner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, was present to testify on behalf of the U.S. State Department and the Administration.

After a brief adjournment for a congressional vote, witnesses Matar Ebrahim Matar, former Member of Bahrain’s Parliament, Leslie Campbell, Senior Associate and Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa Programs, National Democratic Institute, Tom Malinowski, Washington Director, Human Rights Watch, and Richard Sollom, Deputy Director, Physicians for Human Rights prepared to give testimony, however, I had to leave so I did not personally hear their testimonies.

Representative James Moran (D, VA) and Representative Lynn Woolsey (D, CA) were present to provide their views and ask questions of the witnesses.

The room was completely filled to capacity – standing room only — with journalists, activists, legislators, and others.  In the audience, I recognized Bahraini journalist Nada al-Wadi, Cole Beckenfeld from POMED, and Bahrain Ambassador Houda Nonoo, among others.

Testimony and video will be available on the Tom Lantos Commission for Human Rights website

Husain Abdulla of Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) was not present but he entered testimony into the record and provided handouts, as did Brian Dooley of Human Rights First, and several others.  Representative McGovern also entered today’s New York Times article on excessive tear gas in Bahrain into the record.   Those submissions will be up on the Tom Lantos Commission website in a few days. A source at the meeting also told me that the video of the meeting will also be posted on the website within a few days.

What Was Said in the First Half of the Meeting

Representative McGovern stated views that were most sympathetic to the opposition.  He said he “firmly believed” U.S. arms sales and services to Bahrain should cease until significant reforms took place.  Among many improvements, he called for greater access to Bahrain for NGOs.  He was most disappointed that Nabeel Rajab had been imprisoned and called for all detainees who had not demonstrated violence to be released immediately.

Representative Burton’s views could not be more different.  He claimed that he knew the real story about Bahrain and cautioned the audience against putting too much stock in what he called “reports.”  Citing his visits to Bahrain and meetings with the Crown Prince, U.S. intelligence officers, and the Commander of the Fifth Fleet of the U.S. Navy stationed in Bahrain, he said that Bahrain had made significant progress toward reforms and that 18 of the 26 BICI recommendations had been complied with.  He also alleged that there were people from Iran who were fomenting discord in Bahrain.  Noting that he saw a number of activists in the audience, Mr. Burton said, “I think it would be a tragic mistake to predetermine if the Bahrain government has complied with the recommendations.”

Representative Woolsey was next to speak.  She stated that she too had visited Bahrain but her impressions appeared very different.  She said “I came away from that trip with a greater sense of urgency than I expected.”  Problems she cited were the trial of the medics, the use of tear gas, and the use of rubber bullets.  She stated that she opposed arms sales until real reforms had taken place: “The Government of Bahrain has started to take steps but as a passionate human rights advocate, I expect there to be real, lasting, and meaningful reform.”  She also called for increased efforts by the Bahrain government.

Senator Wyden accused the government of Bahrain of “foot dragging” and cited human rights abuses, the targeting of children, the use of tear gas, and the imprisonment of Nabeel Rajab and other political activists, and the prohibition against peaceful protests and assembly as troubling practices that had to stop.

Deputy Secretary Posner‘s remarks focused on human rights, the need for dialogue, and increased progress on the BICI recommendations.  As Representative Wolf commented, his views were moderate but basically echoed what he has stated many times before at press briefings.  He called on both the opposition and the government to take steps toward dialogue and reiterated his previous comments that human rights was a problem for Bahrain to solve.

He did claim that the violence had abated somewhat “this summer” while “nightly confrontations” between young people and the police were still taking place.  When questioned about the freedom of the press in Bahrain by Representative Moran, Mr. Posner stated that Bahrainis had access to a number of news sources, including satellite television, and were not restricted to accessing only state-run media.

Representative Woolsey asked him to clarify what he meant when he said his department “encouraged” dialogue in Bahrain and by what means, and to this, he replied that the Administration simply reiterated its commitment to both the government of Bahrain and the people of Bahrain.  “We’ve made it clear that we have some concerns about human rights and the lack of progress toward dialogue,” stated Deputy Secretary Posner.

When asked about outside influences in Bahrain, such as Iran, Posner stated “What is clear to me is that there are issues in Bahrain that have nothing at all to do with anyone outside the country and what they’re doing.”

The meeting adjourned briefly for a vote called elsewhere.

I regret that I was unable to attend the rest of the meeting, but I will post a link to the video as soon as it appears on the Tom Lantos Commission website.

Congressional Hearing on BICI to take place Wednesday, August 1

Public Congressional hearing on Bahrain

The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission will hold a hearing this Wednesday in Washington, DC to hear witnesses report on the extent to which the government of Bahrain has implemented the human rights protections recommendations made by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry in November 2011.

The hearing is open to the public and will take place in Room 2237 of the Rayburn House Office Building (second floor) on Wednesday, August 1, from 1 pm to 3 pm.

The Rayburn Office Building occupies a site southwest of the Capitol bounded by Independence Avenue, South Capitol Street, C Street S.W., and First Street S.W. (View map) in Washington, DC.

Witnesses will appear in three panels.

The witness for the first panel will be Ron Wyden, U.S. Senator for Oregon.  Senator Wyden was one of 24 senators and congressional representatives to oppose the sale of arms to Bahrain.

The witness for the second panel will be Michael Posner, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.  Mr. Posner has visited Bahrain five times in the past two years, the most recently on June 12 of this year, when he spoke to the press at the U.S. Embassy in Bahrain.

Four witnesses will testify on the third and final panel.  They will be

Matar Ebrahim Matar, former member of Bahrain’s parliament and leading member of Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, the largest political party in Bahrain.  Mr. Matar recently appeared on Al Jazeera’s television news program, The Stream (video link) to opine about the state of reforms in Bahrain.

Leslie Campbell, Senior Associate Director and Regional Director of Middle East and North Africa Programs, National Democratic Institute.  Headquartered in Washington, DC, the National Democratic Institute was formed by the U.S. government to foster movements toward democracy in foreign nations, and is funded both by taxpayers (through the State Department and other agencies) and by contributions from foreign governments (including, notably, the Kingdom of Bahrain) and donations from others.  The organization’s work in Bahrain has focused on encouraging citizen participation in elections.

Tom Walinowski, Director of Human Rights Watch.  Human Rights Watch is a New York-based nonprofit organization that has advocated for human rights in Bahrain.

Richard Sollom, Deputy Director of Physicians for Human Rights.  This organization has advocated for dismissal of charges against the Bahraini medics and has called for a cease of the indiscriminate and excessive use of tear gas in Bahrain, which has been linked to fatalities and miscarriages.  The nonprofit is based in Massachusetts.

Directions from Metro

From Union Station:

Start off going around Columbus Circle and joining 1st Street Northeast, going south. Take a left onto D Street, and shortly afterward a right onto 2nd Street Northeast.  Follow 2nd Street South until it becomes 2nd Street Southeast, then take a right onto C Street Southeast.  Follow C Street down the hill.  The Rayburn House Office Building will be the fourth large building on your right, at the bottom of the hill.

From Capitol South Station:

Start off walking north on 1st Street, and cross C Street. Take a left and walk down the hill, following C Street. The Rayburn House Office Building will be the third large building on your right, at the bottom of the hill.

From Federal Center Southwest Station:

Start off walking north on 3rd Street, and take a right at C Street.  Follow C Street to 2nd Street, then cross the road and the park. Stay on C Street across the roads, and you will see the Rayburn House Office Building on your left.

The Tom Lantos Commission is co-chaired by James P. McGovern and Frank R. Wolf.

Bahrain is putting the cart before the horse with its latest attempts at so-called social reconciliation

The government of Bahrain announced last week that they would provide the equivalent of $500,000 US to non-governmental organizations that develop ” social reconciliation” programs.  The Orwellian twist is that this latest effort joins previous initiatives aimed at Bahrainis — primarily at children and young people in school and camp settings — to attempt to influence them to “forgive and forget” past abuses and transgressions by the regime.  This, while Bahraini forces continue to tear gas and shoot birdshot pellets at its citizens, and people who have been tortured, innocent of wrongdoing, still languish in Bahraini prisons, including Abdulhadi Alkhawaja.

In addition to the the deaths and injuries related to police brutality, dozens of women in Bahrain have miscarried their unborn children because of excessive exposure to tear gas.

Perhaps this money might be better spent on reforming the regime’s security and police forces.  Oh, right, they tried that.  Efforts in that direction seem to be fruitless.  The regime’s forces are as vicious as ever.

Royalists in Bahrain label any person who supports the opposition, democracy, and human rights as a “terrorist” and anyone who attempts to bring light to these injustices as an instigator of violence.  The lion’s share of violence, however, is coming from the regime, as numerous, reputable journalists, human rights organizations, and witnesses have reported again and again.

Evidently “social reconciliation” in Bahrain does not involve protecting the human right freedom of speech.  At time of this announcement, the government banned all demonstrations and marches and imprisoned one of the nation’s foremost civil rights leaders, Nabeel Rajab, for speaking his mind on Twitter.

While Bahrain continues to imprison political prisoners…arrest, beat, and torture citizens for speaking their mind…tear-gassing villages…blinding and maiming children and adults with birdshot….any discussion of “reconciliation” is premature.

After all, we are not talking about a parking ticket here.  There have been hundreds of documented cases of human rights abuses, including torture and loss of life.  People have disappeared who are still not accounted for.  People have lost their jobs because of their beliefs.  Mosques, hundreds of years old, have been destroyed.

What kind of reconciliation was Bahrain seeking when they shot a tear gas canister into Zainab Alkhawaja’s leg at close range on June 27?  What kind of reconciliation were they seeking when they shot four-year-old Ahmed Alneham with buckshot, maiming him for life, while his father begged them to stop?

Actions speak louder than words.  Peace is impossible without freedom.  Reforms first — then reconciliation.

 

Nabeel Rajab: imprisoned for tweets, paying the price for the struggle for freedom

Witness Bahrain interviewed human rights activist and Bahrain Center for Human Rights President Nabeel Rajab in Bahrain yesterday (July 9) just before he was taken to jail for a three-month sentence related to an update he posted on Twitter.

In the video, Rajab states: “I will not stop and I’m teaching people not to stop. If everybody will keep quiet after putting them in jail, then it’s a disaster. We should challenge that. We should be willing to pay the price for the struggle for the freedom that we fight for. And this is the price.”

Read the entire Witness for Bahrain blog post here.

Turning point for dozens of policemen in Bahrain

As tiny as Bahrain is, 24 hours a day are not enough to cover all the stories we want. There are so many invisible soldiers and so many moving stories that the world doesn’t know about.

A few days ago we talked to about 15 men, who worked at the ministry of interior. They all had put in between seven and 27 years of dedicated services as policemen or similar positions. Most of them have families and children depending on them.

When we asked them, what’s their situation now, they all said we’re on hold, waiting. The ministry of interior didn’t officially dismiss them, they don’t have a letter that sets them free, but they won’t take them back either. They can’t work elsewhere because they’re caught in the middle.

In the beginning they were all hesitant to talk on camera, they were worried that the government will come after them or punish them, as some are still waiting their appeals in court. Some didn’t mind showing their faces, others wanted to tell us their stories anonymously.

While we’re working on their individual stories and we’ll post them for you to read, we thought it’s still important to give you a quick highlight on what these policemen went through since the uprising.

Some of them were called in for interrogation during working hours then arrested, others just decided to not show up because of the injustice and inhumane approached they’ve witnessed. Most of them were forced to stand in their uniform under the sun facing the wall for hours.

Without mentioning their names here, one of the policemen said his turning point was the events that took place at the University of Bahrain. He claims he saw with his own eyes riot police protecting thugs and siding with them, because those masked thugs were well known officers, and sons of ministers. He specifically mentioned the son of the foreign minister wearing a mask and joining the thugs in beating people and harassing women. After that he decided not to go to work after what he had seen.

Another man saw what happened when police evacuated the lulu roundabout, saying the theft, burning, and stealing policemen committed was shocking. They take anything and everything as they go.  He says when he saw what they did to the people, and one man after another falls, he couldn’t continue because he couldn’t do this to his own people.

When protesters blocked the road at the financial harbor, one of the policemen told me the riot police and the protesters were on good terms. They were talking and no violence erupted until thugs and other riot police showed up and started hitting the front row of protesters with their batons. The ones at the back started throwing rocks, and protesters in front rows tried to calm them down. He overheard police saying that one of them should try and get hit to reverse the pressure. He said he saw a policeman getting hit; he picked him up and sent him with a Syrian policeman, with a minor injury. Then a rumor came out that this officer had died. He told us, after this incident he realized the dirty game the government is playing, and the lack of transparency in their approaches, as well as the continuous planning to frame the revolution and the protesters in a violent manner. That was his turning point.

Police told us that when Peninsula Shield Forces entered Bahrain, they were given the same uniforms as Bahraini riot police.  Several police further said that a member of the Peninsula Shield Forces shot martyr Ahmad Farhan in the head.

Those policemen are sentenced to between one and eight years in prison, as well as the dismissal from their jobs. Some have already served their sentences, and others are awaiting their appeals. Some still get 50 percent of their salaries, others get nothing at all. Like many other Bahrainis, they’re just waiting, jobless, demanding justice.

One of them told us “Even if they ask me to go back to work, there is no way I will, ever.”

** There are no exact numbers yet, but different accounts suggest more than 200 hunderd policemen defected to in support of the Bahraini uprising, not including females. **

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Wait for our video interviews with some of these policemen. We’re also working closely with Human Rights First to release a proper report.