Bahrain

Bahrain sentences rights defender to two years

Amnesty International on July 19 condemned Bahrain's sentencing of a human rights defender. Nabeel Rajab was originally arrested in June 2016 after he tweeted about alleged torture in a Bahrani prison. A Bahrani court ordered his release in December 2016, but shortly after his release he was arrested on the current charges. Rajab was sentenced to two years in prison for political opinions he expressed during interviews in 2015 and 2016. Salil Shetty, Amnesty's secretary general, condemned the conviction as a "flagrant violation of human rights, and an alarming sign that the Bahraini authorities will go to any length to silence criticism." Rajab still faces numerous similar charges in cases expected to resume in August.

Qatar crisis places US regional policing in pickle

In a strange imbroglio, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Yemen and the Maldives on June 5 all announced that they are breaking off diplomatic relations with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism. All but Egypt also cut off all travel links with the country. The Saudi statement accused Qatar of "adopting various terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilizing the region including the Muslim Brotherhood Group, Daesh (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda, " and of "supporting the activities of Iranian-backed terrorist groups" in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Days earlier, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain all blocked Al Jazeera and other Qatar-based news websites after Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani was quoted as saying "There is no reason behind Arabs' hostility to Iran"—an obvious reference to the Saudis and Bahrain. Qatar quickly responded that the comment had been "fabricated" when hackers took control of the official Qatar News Agency website (which appears to still be down, although the QNA Twitter account is up). (BBC NewsAl Jazeera, May 5; BBC News, Al Jazeera, May 25)

UN to Bahrain: investigate protester deaths

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein on June 2 called on the government of Bahrain to investigate the deaths of five protesters that occurred during a security operation last month. The protesters were killed and 286 individuals were arrested when security forces were conducting an operation against a sit-in held by supporters of Sheikh Isa Qassem, the highest Shi'ite authority in Bahrain, in his home village of al-Diraz. Those who died were buried without their families' consent and without customary funeral traditions, an act which the High Commissioner called "disturbing." Al Hussein also called for the release of those being detained for "peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly," and for them to be "treated with full respect for their rights, including due process."

Bahrain: 'total suppression' of human rights

A Bahrain court on May 31 dissolved the major opposition political party, an act that Amnesty International said is a step toward the "total suppression of human rights" in the Persian Gulf monarchy. The National Democratic Action Society (Wa'ad) was ordered dissolved after Bahrain's Ministry of Justice accused the group of "advocating violence, supporting terrorism and incitement to encourage crimes and lawlessness." Amnesty called the allegations against Wa'ad "baseless and absurd." Wa'ad had criticized the Bahraini constitution in February, and condemned the execution of three men in January. Wa'ad was the last major opposition party in Bahrain, although two smaller opposition groups still exist in the country.

Bahrain rights defender Maryam al-Khawaja speaks

Maryam al-Khawaja, co-director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) and a leading rights defender in Bahrain—now exiled from her homeland—spoke in New York City July 30, at a small gathering organized by the MENA Solidarity Network. It was hosted at Moustache Pitza Middle Eastern restaurant in the East Village. Al-Khawaja spoke about the ongoing protests and extreme repression in her country—and how the Arab regimes are exploiting sectarianism to pit the regional revolutions against each other.

Bahrain: court orders opposition group dissolved

The Bahrain High Civil Court on July 17 ordered al-Wefaq, the main Shi'ite opposition group in the country, to be dissolved. The Bahraini court previously issued a three-month suspension of the group. The court found that the group has engaged in "terrorism, extremism, and violence." The dissolution order requires al-Wefaq's assets to be liquidated and transferred to the state treasury. The order has sparked criticism from many sources, such as UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, as being repressive and preventing political freedom.

Amnesty: Bahrain rights reform outlook bleak

Amnesty International reported Feb. 11 that nearly five years after Bahrain's Day of Rage protests sparked international concern over Bahraini government accountability in human rights, the hope for reform has dwindled. In Bahrain, February 14, 2011, was a day of protests that ultimately ended in the death and torture of rights activists. AI reported that peaceful opposition activists still face arbitrary detention and even physical punishment. AI called for the government to take accountability not only for current conditions but for the security forces that committed abuses during the initial protests.

Regional powers exploit Bahrain protests

Shi'ite protesters have repeatedly mobilized in Bahrain over the past week to demand the release of imprisoned dissident cleric Sheikh Ali Salman, as the kingdom's Court of Appeals prepares to hear his case. Salman was detained in December 2014 on charges of attempting to overthrow the ruling al-Khalifah regime and collaboration with foreign powers. He has strongly denied the charges, asserting that he seeks reforms in the kingdom through peaceful means. In June 2015, Salman was sentenced to four years on charges including insulting the Bahraini Interior Ministry and inciting others to break the law, although he was acquitted of seeking regime change. He is now challenging his conviction. The Bahrain demonstrations come weeks after Saudi Arabia's execution of a dissident Shi'ite leader sparked angry protests in Iran and a diplomatic crisis. The Saudi execution also brought Shi'ites to the streets in Bahrain, although it received far less international media coverage. Illustrating the degree of polarization, the new wave of Bahraini protests have received virtually no international coverage except from Iranian state media such as Press TV and Hezbollah's Al Manar.

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