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."
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Iranian protesters ransacked and set fire to Saudi Arabia's embassy in Tehran on Jan. 2 after Saudi authorities executed a dissident Shi'ite cleric. Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, was among 47 men beheaded in Saudi Arabia on terrorism-related charges, drawing condemnation from Iran and its allies in the region. Hundreds of al-Nimr's supporters also protested in his hometown of al-Qatif in Saudi Arabia's east, and in neighboring Bahrain, where police fired tear gas and birdshot. (NYT, AP, Jan. 2) Days before the Saudi executions, the opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran NCRI reported that Iranian authorities are preparing the mass execution of Sunni political prisoners in the Gohardasht (Rajai-Shahr) prison in Karaj, northwest of Tehran. At least 27 Sunni death-row political prisoners at Gohardasht have had their sentences upheld by Iran's Supreme Court. They have been charged with offenses including "acting against national security," "propaganda against the state," "spreading corruption on earth," and "moharabeh" (waging war against God).
The Bahrain Court of Appeals convicted rights activist Zainab al-Khawaja on charges related to her ripping up a photo of the Bahraini king during a court hearing in 2014, Amnesty International said Oct. 21. Her appeal reduced her charges for insulting the king from three years to one year in prison. She has also been fined 3,000 Bahraini dinars ($7,953.34), and if she fails to pay the fine her prison term may be extended by a year-and-a-half. She previously spent almost a year-and-a-half in prison and has been arrested and released three times since December 2011. Presently she is appealing three separate convictions against her, including a four-sentence for two charges of "destroying public property" and a one-year sentence for "insulting a police officer" while visiting her father in jail. Zainab al-Khawaja is the daughter of prominent activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, currently in prison for life for his participation in pro-democracy protests in 2011.