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Al-Wefaq demands an immediate release of all political figures in Bahrain

AlWefaq National Islamic Society LOGO

AlWefaq National Islamic Society LOGO (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bahrain’s largest political opposition group, Al-Wefaq, has demanded an immediate release for 21 imprisoned political figures and activists in Bahrain.  The organization asserts that they are prisoners of conscience and should be freed.

A statement published by the organization on Saturday stated that the “BICI report, Geneva recommendations, other international reports and the facts of cases lead collectively to the necessity of releasing all detained political figures”.

 “Their stay in detention makes them political hostages as they are detained due to political grounds. It is considered as a political persecution and reflects the travesty of justice.”

“The issue of prisoners of conscience and political hostages highlights the essential need for a political resolution which can unequivocally take Bahrain to the real democracy; where the state works on development and progress instead of arbitrary arrests, fighting the other opinion and targeting innocent people.”

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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.

Physicians for Human Rights makes recommendations to the U.S. government at hearing on Bahrain

Yesterday, the Tom Lantos Commission for Human Rights heard testimony from representatives from nonprofit organizations and activists concerned about the lack of progress on human rights reforms in Bahrain.  Richard Sollom, Deputy Director for Physicians For Human Rights, presented testimony to a standing-room-only audience of legislators, journalists, activists, and concerned citizens.

Physicians for Human Rights Identifies Human Rights Concerns in Bahrain

In his statement to the Congressional Commission (read the full statement here), Mr. Sollom identified multiple areas of concern that have arisen over the past 18 months, including

  • The targeting of doctors, including 48 medical specialists who were detained, tortured, and forced to sign false confessions.
  • The militarization of Bahrain’s health system, including the ongoing presence of government security forces inside the nation’s largest hospital, the systematic interrogation of incoming patients and visitors, and the abuse and detention of Bahrainis suspected of participating in protests.
  • The excessive use of force against Bahrainis, including the unlawfully excessive and indiscriminate use of tear gas.

Important Report Release Coincides with Testimony

On the same day as Sollom’s testimony, Physicians for Human Rights issued the report, Weaponizing Tear Gas: Bahrain’s Unprecedented Use of Toxic Chemical Agents Against Civilians.  Sollom and co-author Holly Atkinson, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and former president of PHR, interviewed more than 100 Bahraini citizens during their investigation. Their 60-page report documents the nonprofit organization’s findings, based on physical examinations and medical records.  The report found numerous injuries, miscarriages, and fatalities associated with the Bahrain government’s excessive use of tear gas.

Recommendations from Physicians for Human Rights

In his testimony, Mr. Sollom recommended that Congress support the Medical Neutrality Protection Act, H.R. 2643, legislation introduced by Representative Jim McDermott (D, Washington).

The principle of medical neutrality ensures

  • The protection of medical personnel, patients, facilities, and transport from attack or interference;
  • Unhindered access to medical care and treatment;
  • The humane treatment of all civilians; and
  • Non-discriminatory treatment of the injured and sick.

The proposed legislation would

  • Suspend non-humanitarian assistance to countries violating medical neutrality;
  • Prevent officials from receiving visas who ordered or engaged in any violation of medical neutrality;
  • Add reporting of medical neutrality violations to the annual State Department country reports;.
  • Encourage U.S. missions in foreign nations to investigate alleged violations of medical neutrality.

Mr. Sollom also recommended that the United States

  • Withhold all military assistance to Bahrain until the Government of Bahrain makes measurable progress on human rights and demilitarizes its public health care system.
  • Deny export licenses for tear gas to Bahrain until the Government adheres to U.N. guidelines for its use, investigates the weaponization of tear gas, and holds law enforcement officials accountable for the excessive use of tear gas.
  • Work with the U.N. to seek the appointment of a U.N. Special Rapporteur on Medical Neutrality.
  • Ensure that policy decisions related to Bahrain support human rights protections.

Matar Ebrahim Matar asks for U.S. Congressional support for specific reforms for Bahrain

In his testimony before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in Washington, DC yesterday, Matar Ebrahim Matar asked for Congressional support for three specific reforms he felt would bring about positive change in Bahrain: a national unity government, a Special National court, and an action plan for police reform.  The text of his remarks is below.

Good afternoon,

It is my pleasure to participate today in this hearing about the situation in my country Bahrain. First, let me thank Congress for their recognition of the struggle in Bahrain and for holding this event. I hope can reach a tangible outcome from this hearing.

Also I would like to thank Senator Wyden, Congressman McGovern and all the Representatives and Senators who have shown commitment to the case of Bahrain.

Having Assistant Secretary Mr. Michael Posner with us here is highly appreciated by me and by many Bahrainis.

Being on Capitol Hill to participate in this hearing reminds me of Abduljalil AlSingase and Nabeel Rajab. They gave congressional briefings and both of them are in prison now.

Before going into detail about the status of the BICI recommendations, let me describe for you the big picture. Based on The Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index, Bahrain is considered an authoritarian regime. This fact had been represented in BICI in a different manner. Article 50 stated that “The King enjoys broad executive powers.”

The Democracy Index also considered Bahrain an Absolute Monarchy and I believe that absolute power is an absolute devil. The King always denies this fact and calls Bahrain a Constitutional Monarchy.  Here is the root cause of our major problems. It is denial. After denial, few options remain: either to ignore all the ongoing violations and problems or to find excuses for them. No genuine step can be taken without facing the problems.

In this Index (Democracy Index) Bahrain is worse than Cuba, China and Vietnam. Many countries were progressing and the most improved country was Tunisia which jumped 53 steps. On the other hand, the most undisputed declining country in the world was Bahrain. It fell 22 steps to be one of worst 25 countries in the world.

It is difficult for this regime to respect human rights and freedoms.  If the regime is not ready to share the wealth and power, they don’t have an option except to continue oppressing the people to control the situation. Knowing this fact explains having elected members of the municipality council as part of the dismissed workers list.

Even before the uprising, it wasn’t difficult for observers to expect deterioration in Bahrain. All those who were monitoring the trial of 25 activists heard the testimonies about torture and they could imagine where things were going.

In 2010, I raised those signs of deterioration in front of Madam Secretary Hillary Clinton when she was visiting Bahrain and I asked her if there was a certain limit for the violations of human rights by a US strategic ally.  Part of Madam Secretary’s reply was to encourage to looking at the “Full side of the glass instead of just looking at the empty one.” She was talking about how Bahrain is leading the Gulf region in a different manner.  Listening to the recent speech for Madam Hilary Clinton at the Holocaust Museum when she was talking about “prevention and response strategies” for “campaigns of harassment and violence against groups of people because of their ethnic, racial, religious, or political backgrounds” in addition to her talk about “moral obligation,” I wonder, does such deterioration in the situation in Bahrain trigger revision of the current policies? Are there prevention and response strategies for the ongoing violations in Bahrain?

I’m not here to ask for help. I’m not asking the US government to fight for democracy and freedom instead of Bahrainis. The issue is not just about the moral obligation of Americans’ principles and values. It is about considering one of the most deteriorating countries a major US non-NATO ally. It is also about the obligations of running one of the most important US bases through support of such brutal regime. Does it need a lot of research for the conclusion to be reached by experts in national security and military that such regimes are not sustainable?

Comparing Bahrain with the Gulf Countries, it is hard for me to admit the fact that Bahrain is weak. It is weak in terms of economy, complicated demography, and being between two giant countries such as Saudi and Iran. It is a very bad feeling to see Bahrain used and pay the price for the ongoing conflict in the region.

Any other attempt will not solve the problem, and will just give more time to the regime to commit more violations. After more than 16 months since the imposition of martial law, and with the BICI report being there for 9 months, more violations were committed and not fewer. This is an indicator that whatever was done to implement the BICI recommendations was actually empty from its purpose and did not help to change the situation on the ground.

I don’t want to talk a lot about how the regime failed to implement most of the recommendations and vacuumed them from their purpose. For that I would like to refer you to my respected colleagues in Human Rights Watch and Physicians for Human Rights to give you their assessment. Also I would like to refer you to the recent Amnesty International report and to the documents that I have provided which thoroughly explain why we think the regime is not serious about implementing BICI’s recommendations.

To play a constructive role in this struggle, I urge Congress to support the following steps:

  • In any country that has such political trouble, the easiest solution is to bring a national unity government that includes all sides. We suggest 50:50 opposition/loyalists, led by an agreed Prime Minister. This government will be responsible for implementing BICI in full, addressing reconciliation, and promoting dialogue.
  • A Special National court, with international expertise and monitoring, shall be established to address accountability for all crimes committed since 14 February 2011 from all sides.
  • A serious action plan shall agree on police reform, like what happened in South Africa, Northern Ireland, and others, that ensures inclusive security and with immediate effect.
  • Finally, I recommend stopping all security and military engagement with Bahrain if this plan is not established.

Thanks again, it was my pleasure and honor to be here today.

[End of testimony]

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.

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.

 

Torture continues in Bahrain, eight months after BICI report

The BICI report was released on November 23, 2011.

Today, on July 9, 2012, protesters and anyone unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time in Bahrain are still being shot, teargassed, beaten, detained, and tortured.

Eight months of promises and very little improvement on the human rights front.

Photos tell the story…

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An Independence Day Reflection

English: This is a high-resolution image of th...

The United States Declaration of Independence (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Today, the fourth of July, is the day Americans celebrate their independence.

Like many Americans, I am descended from men and women who believed in freedom and human rights, and fought for it, when necessary.  I am proud that I am related to Virginia patriots who fought alongside George Washington. My mother’s cousin fought in World War II before he was 20 years old.  He landed at Normandy and he saw his best friend get shot and die right before his eyes before he helped liberate occupied France.  His service continued through Vietnam.  My father served in the Korean War.  They fought for the freedoms we hold dear in the U.S.A. and I think about their courage whenever I see our flag.

But I know and believe that any American who becomes a citizen today, as many people will, is just as much an American as I am and has every claim to our rights and freedoms.  I wish everyone in the world did, as well.

Since I have started volunteering for the Bahrain Coordinating Committee, I never forget how lucky I am to live in a country where I can speak my mind, write about what I believe, and contact my country’s leaders without fear of being arrested and tortured.

I can stand in front of the White House or the Embassy of Bahrain and carry a sign or speak to passers by and no one will menace or prevent me.

I can go to church knowing that my government will not bulldoze it to the ground, as the regime in Bahrain destroyed mosques centuries older than the United States.

My teenage son can walk down the street without fear of being hit by rubber bullets or shot gun pellets.  None of his school friends have been killed by riot police.  He does not know that there is a country in the Gulf where enemies of freedom even desecrate the graves of young men.

When I retire for the evening, in my home, security forces will not rush into the streets of Falls Church, shooting tear gas grenades around and even into my home.  That will not happen here, although it happens almost daily in Bahrain.  My daily life is not filled with violence and fear.

Because I am free, I can fight for democracy and freedom for the people of Bahrain, not with a musket or automatic rifle, but with my words.  When I watch the fireworks tonight, I will say a silent prayer that the day will come, very soon, when the people of Bahrain can live in a country free of repression.

Bahrain: one step forward, two steps back (video)

Zainab Al Khawaja remains “samood” after being targeted and hit by Bahraini security forces today (photo by #BCCLive correspondent)

There was good and bad news out of Bahrain today.

On the good news end of things, the human rights activist Nabeel Rajab was released from prison today after being detained on June 6 for comments he made on social media.  However, the bad news is he still faces charges on several counts associated with what Americans would consider expressions of free speech.

The government of Bahrain announced it would present compensation in the U.S. equivalent of $2.6 million dollars to the families of 17 victims killed by police, and charged three members of its police force with murder in connection with deaths during the crackdowns.  However, the bad news is that more than 50 people have been killed, and the violence against Bahrain residents continues.  The latest fatality is an 18-month old boy who lost his life after exposure to lethal quantities of tear gas that was fired around his home.

Human rights activist Zainab Al Khawaja, also known as @AngryArabiya on Twitter and the daughter of Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, was targeted and shot with a projectile by Bahraini police today and sustained an injury to her leg that required her hospitalization.

An apparent case of police brutality in Bahrain – can you provide the details?

A friend on Twitter provided this video to me, however, I cannot locate the original version on YouTube, and I wanted to share it with you.

It appears to show a traffic stop in a Bahraini neighborhood where people are harassed and threatened by riot police.

Do you know what happened here?  When was this, and where?  What is the story?  Can you solve this mystery?

If you know the original YouTube video, please share the link in the comments!