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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.

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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.

Slow-motion video proves Bahrain riot police shot to kill

Take action: use this form http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/submit-questions-and-comments to write to United States President Obama and ask him to issue a statement from the White House condemning this attack.

The horrifying and cowardly attack on peaceful protesters by Bahrain riot police on Friday, June 22 has made headlines all over the world, including the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and New York Times in the United States.

Now, Al-Wefaq has released a slow-motion version of the YouTube video showing the incident that clarifies many points to the observer:

1.  The protest was clearly peaceful in intent and execution.

2. The physical attack by riot police was unprovoked by any action whatsoever on the part of the protesters.

3. The riot police aimed weapons and threw projectiles at the level of the protesters heads, ostensibly with the intention to maim or kill.

4. The riot police shot and threw projectiles at extremely close range to people, which is against the intended crowd-control use of these items, as they can maim and kill when used in this way.

5. The riot police continued to fire and lob volleys of grenades in spite of the fact that the crowd immediately dispersed, even while it was evident injuries were occurring.

6. They did not stop their attack until it was evident to them a person had fallen and was critically injured.

7. Rubber bullets and projectiles hit people in the back, as they were fleeing the attack.

The Bahrain Coordinating Committee calls on the United States and the United Nations to condemn this brutal and senseless attack.

Bahrain regime forces shoot on peaceful protesters – must see video

Peaceful.  Unprovoked.  Unarmed.

Look at them standing there, silent, in their resolution and dignity.

Facing down oppressors in full riot gear and body armor with guns, sound grenades, and tear gas.

Daring to take back their streets, their livelihoods, their security, their rights.

Then: shot in cold blood.  By regime forces.

Their crime? An offer of peace.

What did those shots accomplish for the Kingdom of Bahrain?

This is their response:

The General Director of the Northern Governorate Police announced that a group of individuals held an illegal rally called for by Al Wefaq National Islamic Society in the vicinity of Khamis on Friday evening.  The group disobeyed warnings and orders to leave the area.  Police then used legal methods to disperse the crowd.

He said that some people sustained various injuries, in which one of them was referred to hospital and proper procedures were taken to investigation the case.

The General Director said that the Al Wefaq National Islamic Society had submitted a request to hold the rally.  The request was denied due to the proposed timing and location.  The rally would have caused traffic congestion and would have endangered public and private property.   Al Wefaq was aware that permission to hold the event had been denied prior to the start of the event.

Since when does the prospect of potential traffic congestion warrant lethal force as a response?

Watch the video, and then draw your own conclusions.

Thanks to Bill Marczak for drawing my attention this video.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner reiterates calls for accountability, restraint in Bahrain

United States Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Michael H. Posner, visited Bahrain last week.  In his comments to the press, he called for the government of Bahrain to prosecute those people responsible for atrocities, as identified in the BICI report, and to acquit all doctors and nurses from the Salmanyia Medical Complex who face charges.

He also called for diversifcation in Bahrain’s security forces — they are comprised of Sunni Bahrainis and foreign personnel, but not Shia Bahainis — and for increased training for the forces.  He also reinforced the need for restraint on the part of the security forces.

Repeatedly, however, he asserted that the situation in Bahrain is that country’s problem to solve, and that the United States would not dictate the terms of reconciliation.

Here are his comments (from June 14, 2012). The emphases are mine.

Good afternoon and thank you for coming today.  This is my fifth visit to Bahrain in the last 18 months.  I welcome the opportunity to be here to continue discussions of mutual interest and importance to Bahrain and the United States.  Bahrain remains an important partner, ally and friend of the United States.

During my visit, I have met with senior government officials, as well as lawyers, journalists, medical professionals, human rights advocates, and members of several political societies.  I have learned much about developments in Bahrain since my last visit in February of this year.   My discussions here have been productive, open, lively and reflective of the strong and longstanding relationship between the people and governments of our two countries.

My discussions with a broad cross-section of Bahrainis have focused primarily on the status of – and prospects for – a comprehensive political dialogue in Bahrain, as well as the process of implementing the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI).  The Government of Bahrain has taken some important first steps in laying the foundation for dialogue and for reconciliation in Bahrain.  We are pleased, for instance, to see a great number of workers reinstated in their jobs, students back to school and that the ICRC has been able to gain access to prisons.  While the street violence has diminished to some degree, we continue to urge protestors to reject the use of Molotov cocktails and other violent attacks on police.  We also urge the police to refrain from the use of excessive force. It is noteworthy that the government has engaged with the ILO in the reinstatement of workers and is compensating the victims of last year’s unrest.  These measures signal a commitment to addressing some of the underlying causes of the unrest which is crucial to building trust in Bahrain.

However, much remains to be done.  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. This includes prosecuting those officials responsible for the violations identified in the BICI report, dropping charges against all persons accused of offenses involving political expression including freedom of assembly, 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.  Working to implement the recommendations of the BICI in an inclusive way will enhance trust and create the space for dialogue and negotiation.

Today, an appeals court in Bahrain upheld the convictions of nine medics and acquitted nine others associated with protests last year at the Salmaniya Medical Complex.  While sentences were reduced, we are deeply disappointed by these convictions, and that the Bahraini government did not use alternative means to address these cases. As we have said in the past, these convictions appear to be based, at least in part, on the defendants’ criticisms of government actions and policies.  The defendants are appealing these convictions to the Court of Cassation. We urge an expedited review of these convictions and that the medics be allowed to remain at home pending appeal. We hope that this review will result in a dismissal of criminal charges in the interest of turning the page on the events of last year and repairing the social fabric of Bahrain.

Above all, we continue to call on all parties in Bahrain to help each other move toward a comprehensive political dialogue that includes the diverse views of Bahraini society in a genuine negotiation.  Progress toward such a dialogue has slowed, polarization in Bahraini society has increased and the social fabric has frayed.  Dialogue has never been more urgent, as polarization in Bahrain society increases and the social fabric becomes more frayed.  It will take courage and leadership on all sides to bring Bahrainis of all backgrounds and views to the table.  We believe dialogue is needed on two tracks.  First, the government should continue to work with opposition political societies on negotiation of the political future of the country.  Secondly, there is a need for dialogue on issues of practical importance to all Bahrainis that enhances the sense of all people in Bahrain that they have a stake in the country’s future.  We call on the government and others in the society to seek creative and inclusive approaches to dialogue and negotiation.  This process will naturally take time.  As Bahrain’s friend and partner, the United States of America stands ready to support you.

QUESTION: The United States is putting pressure on Bahrain’s government to enter dialogue. Did you meet with Al Wefaq? What was your message to the Shia opposition?

ANSWER: We are continuing to do what we’ve done for the last year and a half which is to be a partner to both the government and the people of Bahrain. It is not for us, but for the people of Bahrain to find the path to reconciliation and dialogue. We continue to urge both the government and the various political societies, including Al Wefaq, to be active in that process and to take steps to make that process a success. And yes, we met with Al Wefaq today and we conveyed that message.

QUESTION: What was your message?

ANSWER: The message was to engage in the political process and negotiation and dialogue; to take the high road in terms of urging an end to violence on the street, and to be part of the coming together of this society and working with others across the society in negotiating the future.

QUESTION: You said the government needs to make a dialogue in two parts – did the government accept this? What did the government say?

ANSWER: Let’s separate two different things: What I said is the government and the various political societies need to find a way for a negotiation over political questions, and the government’s clear that they want to negotiate with the range of political societies. The second thing I said is that there are a number of areas where, on a parallel track, discussion, negotiation and dialogue can be a way to build confidence and greater trust – issues like the composition of the police, like health or housing. So there are issues related to the society and how it functions every day and the more there’s discussion of those issues, it helps set an environment where the political dialogue is more likely to succeed.

QUESTION: We are hearing a lot about the BICI, but not a lot is happening on the ground. We saw there was an official statement yesterday threatening civil society, saying they went beyond what is permitted. What will happen to the rest of the nine medics? Many of them were charged with occupying the hospital and storing weapons… Are you advising the government to drop the charges? And dropping charges for the misdemeanors? About the violence: There is a critical case of a 4 year old boy who was not protesting, he was with his father selling fish. What is the opinion of the State Department in the regard?

ANSWER: First question was on the status of the BICI recommendations. We had a range of discussions with people in the government about the status of those recommendations. The Minister of Justice has now assumed responsibility for next steps. There is a complimentary process in terms of acting on the recommendation of the Universal Periodic Review which echoed some of the same points. With the government, we discussed issues of accountability, and there are a number of cases now in the courts, other cases being investigated by a special investigative unit in the Attorney General’s office. Most of those cases haven’t been decided but that’s an area where there’s activity and it’s something we’ve been following closely.

The second are the range of cases still pending involving criminal charges, felonies and misdemeanors that occurred last February and March and again we had discussions with the government about the importance of resolving those cases and for those who have simply expressed views that are critical of government or assembled peacefully. Our view is that those charges should be dropped.

And third, we had discussions about the continuing process of reinstating workers dismissed last year. A number of people have been reinstated but some remain unresolved. We also discussed a broader recommendation of the BICI, which is the need to integrate the police and have the police force be more reflective of the society it serves.

With regard to the speeches and public comments of the last couple of days, I won’t comment specifically but I will say that we hope that the level of rhetoric and language be brought down so there can be an environment conducive to constructive, practical discussion. We discussed it with the government; we discussed it with the political societies. There’s a great deal of tension in the society a great deal of division and language can be a barrier if its inflammatory.

As for the doctors, I’ve said several things and I’m not going to say much more. We’ve said we’re deeply disappointed by the convictions. We said we believe that the decisions were based, in part, on the defendants’ criticisms of government actions and policies. And we said that we hope the appeals process will yield dismissal in the interest of turning the page on events of last year and repairing the social fabric. I’m not going to get into the details of the cases, but in the larger effort of bringing the society together, we hope that there can be an alternative way to address these cases.

In terms of acts of what you termed ‘harassment,’ our hope and expectation is that civil society groups will be allowed to operate freely, to be critical of the government when they deem it necessary. We had a very good meeting today with the Minister of Human Rights today about the role of civil society and the importance of groups being allowed to operate – we’ll continue to pursue that.

With respect to violence on the street, we continue to condemn both the violence by the protestors, often young kids hurling Molotov cocktails and other objects at the police; that’s unacceptable conduct. And we’ve also said and will say again that we’re concerned about the excessive use of force by police in some instances, included the excessive use of tear gas.

QUESTION: Please tell us what the prospects for dialogue are given the political climate? How can the opposition seize the opportunity?

ANSWER: I think this is a critical moment when there’s a pressing need for all of the parties to do all they can to engage in a dialogue and negotiation and do all they can to bring society together. There’s a degree of division here that is not good and this is a moment where, across the board, parties, whether the government or various societies need to redouble their efforts to be part of a constructive dialogue.

QUESTION: Al Wefaq, for a fact, has clearly said they won’t engage in dialogue unless the Manama Document and all the five opposition groups are brought to the table and BICI recommendations (inaudible)… The NUG also will not enter talks. These are top people from the Secretary General and senior people. This is the same as putting conditions. Both parties have said they condemn violence. What do you think of the political stalemate? Also, you met the Minister of Interior. Was the topic of accountability raised and what was the response?

ANSWER: In any negotiation or dialogue over differences parties say a range of things which make getting to the table more difficult. So our message, we met with the National Unity Gathering, we met with Wifaq, we met with Wa’ad, we met with a range of government ministries so our message to everybody is that it’s time to take a fresh look and think creatively about how to come to the table, begin the discussion and reach an outcome that benefits everyone in the society. The society, everybody in a society, stands to benefit if there is a successful dialogue that leads to a compromise that brings everybody into a common vision of the future. If you get bogged down on what one party said, you are not likely to move forward.

On the issue of accountability, we raised the issue in various ways with the Attorney General, the Justice Minister, as well as the Minister of the Interior, as well as the Minister for follow up on the royal court and our message is again, as I reflected in my opening comment, this is an important piece of the implementation of the BICI recommendations. It’s also an important piece for moving forward. There were a number of egregious cases, particularly those of individuals who died in custody, and it’s important that there is successful prosecutions in some of those cases ad we will follow them closely.

QUESTION: Inaudible.

ANSWER: As I said in my opening statement and I’ll say it again: we condemn the violence, we condemn it. With no qualifications it should stop now. As you say, it involves not only Molotov cocktails, but also various explosives, metal pellets being thrown at the police, the police are in a dangerous situation– violence should stop.

QUESTION: You said you’ve already spoken with Waad – what’s coming out as a concrete solution?

ANSWER: We raised these issues.

It’s critical that all parties here, all leaders, condemn violence and urge their supporters to stop engaging in violent acts. It’s also important, we talked to the Interior Minister about this and the Chief of Police, it’s important that the police use restraint. I’m not equating the two, but there needs to be a reduction of violence and confrontation.

QUESTION: Regarding the dialogue between the government and political parties – the government wants all to sit together but in the meantime, the opposition says they want to sit with the government but not others because it is the decision maker. But they are delaying… How do you see this?

ANSWER: I’m not going to comment on who said what but my view is that everyone, every party, the political parties and the government all bear some responsibility for engaging in a more active way going forward and looking for creative ways to establish a dialogue and negotiation that leads to results. We said the same things to everybody we talked to but at the end of the day it’s up to Bahrainis to find the path to the future.

QUESTION: Inaudible

ANSWER: As I said at the beginning, this is for Bahrainis to do. We’re a friend of the government and the people. We want to see this society succeed; it’s really important to us. So I’m here to talk to the government, talk to the various political societies and civil society to encourage what Bahrainis need going forward. We’re not going to set the terms, we’re not going to direct it. It’s really up to the people of Bahrain to chart their own destiny. Thank you.

Maryam Al-Khawaja and Matar Matar to appear on Al Hurra TV this afternoon

Free Hour, a program of Alhurra TV, an Arabic-language U.S. television station, will feature an interview with Maryam Al-Khawaja and Matar Matar this afternoon at 20:00 GMT.  The second half of the hour long program will be devoted to the interview.   The program may be watched live at http://www.alhurra.com/  The second half of the program will be devoted to the interview.

Maryam Al-Khawaja (Twitter: @maryamalkhawaja)is a human rights activist and the daughter of imprisoned human rights activist Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja.  She is also the Vice President for the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, and the head of the Gulf Center for Human Rights, and is visiting Washington, DC to speak with congressional legislators and speak with reporters at NPR and other media outlets.

Matar Matar (Twitter: @matar_matar) was featured on Al-Jazeera’s The Stream Tuesday, along with activist and Bahrain Center for Human Rights director Nabeel Rajab.  Matar Matar is a former member of the Bahrain parliament, and now works on behalf of Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, Bahrain’s leading political party. Al Wefaq has been a prominent voice in Bahrain’s opposition movement.

The host for the program will be Hussein Jradi (on Twitter @hussein_jradi )

Free Hour is on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/freehour and Twitter @alhurrafreehour

Alhurra TV is operated by Middle East Broadcasting Networks, a nonprofit organization financed through a grant from the Broadcasting Board of Governors, an independent federal agency funded by the U.S. Congress.

Is Reconciliation in Bahrain Still Possible? Al-Jazeera’s ‘The Stream’ Discusses (Video)

Is reconciliation in Bahrain possible?  The government says it is committed to reforms, but crackdowns on protestors continue. So how can both sides establish mutual trust? And what are the steps needed to pave the way forward?

Al Jazeera’s social media television show The Stream looks to the future of the country and examines the prospects for meaningful political reform.

Featured in this video are The Stream presenter Imran Garda  and co presenter Malika Bilal and guests Matar Matar (Al-Wefaq), Fahad Albinali (Bahrain Information Affairs Authority) , and Nabeel Rajab (Bahrain Center for Human Rights).