Steady pace on the road to victory
Three years ago the people of Bahrain poured into the streets, camping at the Pearl Roundabout and challenging the tribal rule of Alkahlifa clan. For three years they have sacrificed their youth, while the world remained silent even when the regime was proven guilty of systematic torture, extra-judicial killing and absolute dictatorship. Bahrain’s forgotten Revolution has survived against all the odds and has become beacon of hope among other revolts of the Arab Spring. What makes Bahrain’s Revolution unique? What are the prospects of victory?
Lord Avebury: Vice-Chairman of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group:This meeting is being held to mark the third anniversary of the beginning of the Bahraini revolution in February 2011. The uprising has continued unabated ever since, in spite of the relentless efforts of the al-Khalifa dictators to suppress it by extrajudicial executions, torture, arbitrary arrests, deprivation of citizenship, and attempts to deny the people’s rights to freedom of expression and assembly. This inhuman strategy has utterly failed to quell the spirit of the people., who are more determined than ever that the al-Khalifa family must go. The most popular chant at the demonstrations n the villages is “Yesqat Hamad” meaning ‘down with Hamad’ .
There is of course a law making it illegal to insult King Hamad, as you find in most dictatorships, but Hamad has gone one better now by increasing the penalties for this so-called ‘offence’. You risk a 7 year prison sentence plus a fine of £16,300, a bit of an increase on the extra four months Zainab al Khawaja got for tearing up a picture of the King recently. The European Parliament has called for the release of Zainab, of her father the esteemed human rights activist who is serving a life sentence, Ibrahin Sharif, Nabil Rajab, head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, and all other prisoners of conscience, political activists, journalists, human rights defenders and peaceful protesters who are arbitrarily detained by the regime, and we would like to see the EU’s foreign policy chief Cathy Ashton going to Manama to present these demands.
It would also be good if the UN Special Procedures would make a joint report to the March meeting of the UN Human Rights Council on Bahrain’s killings, tortures and arbitrary detentions. The UN Rapporteur on Torture was originally invited by the regime, but the invitation was cancelled and there is no sign that it will be revived for the foreseeable future. But the Rapporteurs have plenty of evidence of abuses, and the March Council meeting would be the time to consider it.
Meanwhile, al-Wefaq has set conditions for resumption of the collapsed ‘political dialogue’. They also want the political prisoners to be released, including the ‘Bahraini 13’; a parliament with full legislative powers; a government chosen by the people, equality of citizens, reform of the judiciary, fair and transparent elections supervised by an independent electoral commission, a guarantee of equality between all citizens. and an end to the policy of extra-legally naturalising foreigners.
This last process has been going on for some years, as revealed in the Bandargate report. DrSaleh al-Bandar showed that there was a conspiracy to alter the demographic balance in Bahrain, turning it into a Sunni majority country, in the expectation that the native Shia would be put in their place electorally. And although the struggle for democracy in Bahrain has never been expressed in sectarian terms, the al-Khalifas have used the sectarian card by systematically excluding Shias from public life and the professions, and by demolishing their Mosques and Matams.
It is impossible to conceive that the al-Khalifas would agree to al-Wefaq’s list of preconditions for talks, but they may try to keep ‘talks about talks’ going in an attempt to prevent unification of the opposition. For the time being there is a division between the constitutionalists who believe that progress can be made by negotiations with the regime, and the realists who say that the dictators will never relinquish their power voluntarily. But the split has narrowed, if al-Wefaq means that ‘road-map’ has to be guaranteed before they will sit down at the table. It isn’t clear how that could be accomplished; perhaps they have in mind some kind of international oversight of the process.
What al-Wefaq might like to stipulate is that some reforms should be enacted before he talks start, instead of being merely items on the agenda. The release of the political prisoners is the obvious one to pick, because those activists have earned the right to play an important role in any transitional process towards a democratic system. As President Obama told the Bahrain government soon after the start of the uprising in 2011: “You can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail”
Failure to heed that advice has encouraged many people to think that the regime intends to hold onto their power by hook or by crook. Their foiled attempt to buy enormous quantities of gas grenades from South Korea may have been an indicator that the hardliners are in control and the Crown Prince’s manoeuvres are no more than a trick to keep al-Wefaq docile.
Of one thing I am certain. The UK’s behaviour is not helping. Not only are any criticisms we make sotto voce; not only have we failed to point out, following President Obama , that there is no hope of a peaceful political outcome to the revolution while there are Mandela-like figures in prison, but we give the al-Khalifas the red carpet treatment at Ascot, Sandhurst and Buckingham Palace whenever they come here.
Last month Prince Andrew visited Bahrain and our ambassador told the Gulf Daily News that he had a close relationship with King Hamad and the Crown Prince, two of the pinnacles of the repression. As long as the despots know they have such powerful support from the British establishment, why should they bother making any concessions?
Dr Abdul Hadi Khalaf Former MP, Lecturer at University of Lunde, Sweden: It is a pleasure to come here again and meet you and to speak about the situation in Bahrain. I will start with a question: why would despots respond to the demands of the people if they have such powerful friends like the British government? The answer is they have to because there is resistance in Bahrain. It is not weak, it is getting stronger day by day and every day the regime is creating new adversaries. It is helping to spread protests and opposition.
Last month we had celebrations of 200 years of British friendship with Bahrain and two weeks later we had another event the construction of the headquarters for the Saudi-led Peninsula Shield. The irony of these two events escaped the Bahraini rulers. The British friendship that is to say the protection given to the Al Khalifa family since 1813 until 1972 was to deter Saudi tribal incursions into Bahrain.
The British presence in Bahrain throughout those 200 years was to deter Saudis from taking over Bahrain. Now since independence and especially after the king came to power in 1999 the situation has changed. Saudi Arabia controls the economy of Bahrain and since 15th March 2011 it controls it militarily as well.
The economy of Bahrain is fully controlled by Saudi investments. You will find these investments in the banking sector, in the main industrial complexes like petrochemicals and the aluminium factory. You will find it in the commercial and the tourist sector where seven million tourists who visit Bahrain are coming from Saudi Arabia.
The hegemony the Saudi rulers have now exercised over Bahrain provides a new page in Bahraini history. Bahrain is no more the independent country that we thought we were establishing in 1971 when Britain departed from Bahrain. Now Bahrain has been turned into a Saudi protectorate and as such our adversaries are not only the ruling family of Bahrain and its tyrannical rule but also the Saudi tyrannical rule.
We have to expand our vision to include this strategic change in the situation. Sadly it is no more a question of human rights only in Bahrain. It is no longer just the corruption of the family. It is also the right to self determination. It is the right to regain the promised independence.
Video: This operation is an attack on a house that resulted in a 50-year-old woman suffering a heart attack and dying this morning.
Lord Avebury: So that is what life is like in Bahrain today. The tragedy of the loss of another life. It is so terrible that not only they deploy these enormous forces to attack civilian houses but it results in the deaths and sometimes permanent injuries to innocent civilians as a result of the operations of the Saudi-dominated security forces. I hope people realise how awful it is to live in those conditions.
Mrs Jalila Al Salman Former prisoner of conscience, Deputy Head of Teachers Union: I want to talk about the situation of women and education in Bahrain. After three years of non-stop struggling for justice and democracy, freedom and equality and despite all efforts against the people of Bahrain and all aspects of Bahraini society, with silence if not support for the ruling regime in Bahrain by Western powers the struggle continues and so do the atrocities.
Women and education are not an exception and are affected by what is happening in Bahrain. At least 428 women from all walks of life have been imprisoned due to their participation in demonstrations when they were practising their constitutional rights. They have been tortured, persecuted, insulted and sexually harassed. Fourteen died due to the affects of toxic tear gas. One was shot. You have seen the video where a 52 year old women died due to an attack on her house.
Large numbers of women have been sacked since 2011 – at least 127 nurses and 55 educators. The first picture is of women marching and we have the riot police hitting a woman. You can see me and Dr Roula in this picture. You can also see how women are being treated during detention. You can see how peaceful the women are in the fact of teargas.
Most of the active societies in Bahrain have been attacked and most societies have been banned. Some activities were started by people who call themselves human rights NGOs in Bahrain.
I will now turn to education. Eighty percent were subjected to various kinds of human rights violations in the educational field. More than 63 were questioned either in police stations or by illegally formed discipline boards. Eighty percent were subjected to suspensions and salary cuts. Thirty percent were forcibly transferred to other work places. One person was demoted, five percent were sent to court, three percent were dismissed but most of them were reinstated. Nine teachers are in prison now. They are the ones we know about but it is not the whole count.
Two teachers were arrested from their work places. The teaching profession is closed to Bahraini graduates as the Ministry of Education works hard to import teachers. Many teachers are in prison. Mahdi Abu Deeb the President of the Bahrain Teachers Society, Amar Akei is in prison because of tweeting and Ahmed Merza who was arrested from his school.
Mahdi Abu Deeb is serving five years for speaking up teachers and pupils right. He is in an overcrowded cell and by arresting him and the dissolving the Bahraini Teachers Society, teachers in Bahrain lost their representative.
This slide provides information about student numbers in Bahrain. Four hundred were suspended from the University of Bahrain in 2011. Seven were sent to the military court. 144 were convicted and they were sent to another court. Until now at least nine students have been expelled from university and 12 are in prison right now. With regard to school students who are under 18 the documented number of cases is 120 which means that the only cases who went to the societies were documented cases.
These are some photos of the students from the university of Bahrain who are in jail right now. This is just an example of the kind of jails that we have in Bahrain. This is a court where very young children were sent. This is a photo of a school bus that was raided and all the students were sent to the police station. Students have been arrested from Al Jabril Secondary School.
You can see the tear gas near the school busses. The riot police are outside the school and the main picture is of a student who was chased by the riot police and then hit. This is a sample of the students from the University of Bahrain who were expelled and they were asked to clean the school.
Recently we have two more students from the University of Bahrain: Ahmed Nasif and Ali Saleem. Both of them are from the faculty of civil engineering and they are being arrested under the terrorism law.
I think this is a very good opportunity to say that I am a living example of the atrocities committed against women, workers and teachers in Bahrain. I was arrested three times, ill treated and forced to sign confessions while blindfolded and denied any access to my lawyer and family. I saw my lawyer only once at the military court session. He came in and he was asking who is Jalila. I experienced injustice in both the civilian and the military court. The civilian court is just a name. It is just another face of the military court where the judge refuses to enact anything on our behalf.
With regard to the current situation in Bahrain, dialogue and negotiations. Without a change in the mentality that is governing Bahrain we cannot expect any changes. What is needed is a genuine dialogue and negotiations where the government does not enforce its will on the parties.
Under the current circumstances it is very difficult to have dialogue and negotiations in Bahrain. It is must a form of propaganda to clear the image of the government. There should be some measures on the ground so that the people will have faith in what we call dialogue, or negotiations or whatever it is. These measures could include releasing political prisoners. The leaders of the movement should be at the negotiations, collective punishments and house raids should stop. If the government is willing to have a real dialogue much can be done.
Lord Avebury: Thank you very much Jalila Al Salman. If we have information about the teachers and the students we could do a lot with the public here with the National Union of Teachers, the National Union of Students, the National Council of Women and the organisations that would respond to the information that we have just heard. I am hoping that we can collect all this information and incorporate it in leaflets that can be sent out to the public. We certainly had a response when the doctors were in prison. There was an excellent response from medical organisations such as the British Medical Council and the various unions that represent medical professionals. We could do the same with the information you have just given us. We could expand that into communications that we can send to the organisations representing these communities in the UK like women, teachers and students. Thank you very much for that information.
Video: Again today’s events in which this woman died because of a heart during a raid on her home this morning. Just a glimpse of the sort of feelings that are there in Bahrain.
Lord Avebury: That is not untypical because people have died during raids on homes. People have been killed by the use of tear gas in confined spaces. People have been killed by gas grenades. People have also died in detention. The phenomenon of extra judicial killing is one that needs much closer attention then it has received in the past.
Dr Roula Al Saffar Former prisoner of conscience with medics, Head of Nurses Union: First we are going to talk about the prisons in Bahrain and then who the prisoners of conscience are and the systematic torture that is going on in Bahrain. We are going to talk about the sentencing of youth in our country and the violations that are going on in Bahrain and the different cases that have been taken up by our campaign which was launched in December 2013 to release all the prisoners of conscience in Bahrain.
We have three different security forces in Bahrain and just for you to have an idea we have the National Security Agency, the Bahrain Defense Force and the Ministry of the Interior. We have the judiciary system which is politically controlled to sentence anybody in Bahrain at the present time.
There are a number of prisons in Bahrain. Once you are sentenced in Bahrain you go to Jaw Prison. The occupancy of Jaw Prison is about 1600 but at the present time registered sentenced detainees or prisoners is around 3,000 – there is double occupancy. We have the Dry Dock which is a detention centre. There are 12 or 13 people in a cell for four people. There are 23 prisons in Bahrain for 730 kms. Can you imagine. Bahrain is three times the size of Washington DC but we have so many prisons and they are building more prisons in the country as we speak and that tells you about the future for the people of Bahrain.
The detainees say that the prison is the best university you will ever enter in Bahrain because of the doctors, nurses, teacher, politicians, sportsmen, religious men, human right defenders, culture students, kids – you name it and they will be there in the prison. The detainees are teaching each other different things. I am one of the graduates from this school.
These are some of the detainees: Hussein Bey is a photographer, he is in detention and he hasn’t been sentenced. Ahmed Meidan with his one-year-old son. He was not able to hold his child until he was in hospital a week ago and the family took his son to him.
Systematic torture is rampant. If you search the internet you find different methods of torture to which we have all been subjected: hangings, beatings, cigarette burns, electrocution, sexual assaults and harassment. A large number of people in Bahrain have sickle cell disease. One of the first things they do to us is to put us into a cell that is freezing cold and we go into a sickle cell crisis.
This is our campaign and you can see it says I am free (ana hur). This is the sign of samood that everybody has in Bahrain and when we see somebody in Bahrain we make this sign. We are persistent and will continue until we get justice.
Just to give you a different taste of who is in prison. This is Mohammed Abdul Halim, 26 years old. He is a university graduate who has been sentenced to 15 years in prison. These are different sentences. Please keep in mind the age of the young people and the sentences that have been given to them. Ahmed Safi, 25, he is sentenced to 37 years in prison. Hussein Fadalla, 17, sentenced to 38 years in prison. Farouk Khali, 15, sentenced to 50 years in prison. Ibrahim Shumedi 15, sentenced to 25 years in prison. I keep saying that Bahrain needs to have a nursing home by the time these people go out.
This is one day of sentencing on 20th January, 2014. Forty kids were sentenced to between 15 and 20 years: a total of 250 years in prison for one day only so you can imagine the sentencing that is happening on a daily basis.
We will continue with our campaign. We do not know what is going to happen but we need everyone who is a political prisoner in Bahrain to be released.
This is what happens when family members go to visit a prisoner. If they have a chance they will get to see him once or twice a month. Otherwise the visit is cancelled even though they have been waiting to see their loved one from early in the morning and they have to wait until three in the afternoon. They are told sorry we do not have time to you.
One of the things which is going on at the present time which is a violation of the rights of all prisoners is that they are not allowed to get thermals, they are not allowed to have warm clothing. Believe it or not a person will have two underwears and he will have to exchange the underwear to get another two in a month. We are not even talking about clothing.
At the present time they only have three heaters for 3000 detainees. They do not have hot water to bathe in so they are bathing in cold water. They do not have clothes. When prisoners make a phone call a guard sits close to them. They will monitor the call. It costs each detainee about 130 dinars to stay in prison. They have to buy their clothing from the canteen which the Ministry of the Interior is providing, they also have to buy food. Family members can bring boxed and canned food.
The latest thing is that they are forbidding people to have klenix or napkins and they all have flu because of the weather. That is why they are tearing their clothes and using them as a napkin.
I would like to bring some cases to your attention. Dr Al Karim, he is my colleague. He is a doctor who is an orthopaedic consultant. He is the only one in GCC countries who can perform surgeries on children with congenital defects. He has been sentenced to five years in prison and he is accused of calling for the overthrow of the regime at a public gathering. The charge of overthrowing the regime was dropped from all other cases – the 58 cases of the medics. But he got sentenced to five years in prison for treating the protesters and for being a witness to the atrocities in Bahrain in 2011. He has just had a baby boy whom he has not seen.
Family members are not allowed to bring medication to the detainees so the detainees stay without medication for weeks. Now just recently they asked for the medication of the detainees to be brought to them and they will deliver it to the detainees.
Another doctor Jassem Derasi was detained on the border between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. He was detained for bringing in some medication that is not available in Bahrain. He was going to give it to his mother.
A blind man Ali Saad was detained in 2010. He is in hospital. He was shivering and chained and a guard was with him. He is accused of working on making bombs in the country. There are many other cases whose name I will mention.
A 15 year old boy was sentenced to ten y ears in prison under the anti terrorist law. He is just a child. In 2011 the UNHCR stated that 188 children were detained in Bahrain. In 2012, 120 were detained. We believe that today more than 400 children have been detained. There is no schooling, they do not allow them to take their exams. If they allow them to take their exams it is only after harassment and their parent running round the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of the Interior. In one small tiny village we have ten detainees. They are aged between 17 and 20.
They keep attacking the homes of families who in the end give up their houses because they are in a village next to the palace of the king.
There is a culture of impunity. Police officers get acquitted for killing people. Our children are sentenced to 50 years in jail while a police officer who has killed six people is sentenced to two months in prison. A doctor who treated the injured is in jail for five years. What kind of judicial system do we have.
This is our campaign. Our vision is to have the prisons empty of prisoners of conscience in Bahrain. We need to know the names of the prisoners and we need to highlight to the people of the world that there are some many prisoners in the country. We can put pressure on the European parliament that they need to do something and to pressurize the government of Bahrain that they need to stop buying ammunition to use against the people of Bahrain.
We want the rapporteur on torture to visit Bahrain and the European parliament should exert pressure for this to happen. Human rights societies should also enter the country. We need the International Red Cross to be more active. I am very sorry they are not that active. They say if you send us an issue and cases then we will look into it.
I would like the European parliament to push these people into the country and visit each cell in each prison to see what is going on in the country. We have to put pressure on the government otherwise nothing will happen.
Lord Avebury: Thank you very much for that impressive testimony. If we could get this across to the people of this country they would be up in arms about it. If we can concentrate on certain recommendations. We can use information to approach professional organisations and those who represent students, teachers and so on we could be far more effective than we are already. Of all the recommendations that you made I would say the one that is most important of all is to increase the pressure for the rapporteur on torture to visit Bahrain. His visit was suspended. All our governments have to increase the pressure to allow the rapporteur to go and investigate the horrific list of tortures that we have just heard about. People being severely injured by torture and not receiving proper medical attention. This is a horrendous crime against the people of Bahrain and one that deserves investigation. The rapporteur on torture is the person to do it. That is his job. We should have sanctions against the Bahraini authorities. If we can persuade our governments to take robust action. They have been reluctant to do so thus far. We have to impress on them that his conduct is unacceptable.
Film: This film was made by the campaign to release prisoners of conscience to show how people are being tortured.
Dr Salah Al Bandar author of the Bandar report: I really would like to thank you Lord Avebury for your consistent and unwavering support for the just cause of the Bahraini people and beyond. At the same time I would like to thank the community activists who are coming every year from the frontline to give us an eye witness account of what is going on in Bahrain.
The issue of human rights violations in Bahrain is well documented by the United Nations, by the international human rights organisations and by the national organisations as well. Again it is indecent to compare suffering and I find it very difficult that a community of a country which is around half a million indigenous population is enduring such consistent violation for the last few decades.
If I put this in context I counted in proportional representation the number of the detainees, the number of people expelled and the number of people put on trial or killed within the context of what we are living here in the UK that number would amount to 1.5million British people going through what the people of Bahrain have been going through for at least the last ten years or so. It is a horrific proportion on the scale of torture and killing and indignation in Bahrain.
I would like to make a few comments but I will focus on one significant issue. I can see that on the horizon of the current political situation there is no possibility for a political settlement for what is going on in Bahrain. This is because the government and the authorities and the royal court itself are buying time by bringing up the issue of dialogue from time to time. At the same time they are continuing with their original plan: the gradual co-opting of political forces and neturalising the other major political opponents in the country. They are coming on systematically to use that kind of plan.
Their major interest and their focus is political naturalisation. This is the critical point I would like to highlight today. It seems to me that for the Bahraini people at the end of the day that they would come to realise if there is any possibility down the line one day, maybe in five or ten years to reach an amicable solution to the current horrendous situation then the Bahrain we know, the composition of Bahrain which we were familiar with for the last two or three hundred years is completely different. At that point there is going to be a fruitless political solution because the majority community of today definitely is going to be the minority of community of tomorrow.
I will focus on two issues. The first one is the political naturalization. According to the plan which we uncovered in 2007 this amounted to the rate of 50,000 naturalizations per annum. According to my sources today the royal court has processed 360,000 applications for naturalization. So you can imagine now that for the last eight years the composition and the demographic profile of the indigenous population is tremendously changed.
On the other side of the equation they are playing a very subtle game because the issue is the identity of Bahrain as we know it. The identity of Bahrain as we know it is getting to be a serious issue of contest. They are contesting this sense of identity because the majority community has been seen as a serious threat for almost 200 years.
They are trying to play on this element because they are easing the visa and regulations of residence for the Sunni foreigners in the country and at the same time gradually deporting hundreds of the Shia foreigners who are coming into the country and contributing to muharram and the religious festivities of the majority community. They are doing this aggressively to the extent that when I looked at the statistics I saw a very interesting pattern of issues.
Since the 40s and up until the 70s the percentage of foreigners was between 18 to 20 percent of the total population of Bahrain. And since 2000 that kind of proportion rose to around 38 percent. I am basing this on my notes which I have been taking for years now during my time as an adviser to the Ministry of Planning to the royal court.
Today the number of foreigners in Bahrain amounts to almost 60 percent of the population which is beyond 1.3 million residents of that country. By reducing the component of the Shia foreigners gradually without it being noticed and increasing and easing the regulation of visa requirements for the Sunnis who are mostly coming from north Africa, Egypt, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Pakistan they are trying to bring a psychological sense of an overwhelming sense of dominance of the Sunni culture. That is what I termed sectarian apartheid which has been going on gradually since 2005 without being focused on.
Bahrain is now changing considerably despite our consistent warnings. It is very interesting to see that the chief of the Dawasir tribe is now in control of the double number of people from Dawasir – more than the ruling family itself. So now you can see the influence of the Saudis which during the 30s and 40s was limited and contained. The Dawasir tribal chiefs are really the people who are dictating what is going on.
The number of the royal family according to the statistics is around 50,000 individuals – that includes every single member of the royal family according to the department which is responsible for the statistics in the royal court.
I think it is a very serious issue for every single group who is campaigning for a change in Bahrain. I do believe the issue of human rights is important. We are all trying to raise these issues. I found it very hard during the past few years to work at a high level advocacy for the people in the United Nations and the European Union on the issue of demography and the democratic profile of Bahrain. This issue is not surfacing. It is not really getting interest.
The issue of the demographic make-up is out of the mandate of most of these organisations. It is not a particular issue. It is very odd for the international community to face such an experiment. It happened before during the 70s in Kuwait without being noted but we all know that the political naturalization of individuals in Kuwait played a very significant role in changing the demographic profile of Kuwait.
Most of the individuals who I talked to during the past few years are not familiar with such terminology and such a procedure. So I would urge the political forces and the friends of Bahrain around the globe to try to explain to the political establishment in the Western countries of the European Union that whenever Wifaq and the other political powers come to talk about a political settlement they would realise that in Bahrain the people they are talking about are out of the political equation. I hope I have raised awareness about the issue of political naturalization.
Lord Avebury: Thank you very much Dr Al Bandar for the work you did on what is innately a very difficult problem. There are no United Nations mechanisms by which a wholescale attempt to change the demography of a country can be raised. That does not come within any clause of the National Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or on covenant on social and cultural rights. But it is a gross violation of the rights of the indigenous people of Bahrain and there ought to be ways by which it can be drawn to the international community. So I agree with you – it is a major problem that we all have to confront because however much we go on about human rights the situation in a few years time will be that you have a Sunni majority in Bahrain and that they will be able to enact whatever laws they chose with the approval of the majority of the people. They will then be able to say that they are fully democratic and they can ignore the wishes of the indigenous population. Thank you very much Dr Al Bandar for drawing our attention to that problem.
Dr Hussein Jawad, Chairman European-Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights: I am a human rights defender and a former detainee who was just released on bail a month ago after being arrested on charges of insulting the king and inciting hatred against the regime. My trial is still pending. This is because of a speech I gave in Manama during the ceremony of Ashura. In my speech I advocated the values of human right and the principles of non violence. My father, Mohammed Hassan Jawad is an activist too. He has served 15 years in prison and is the oldest prisoner in Bahrain aged 67. My father is a famous victim of torture. He was deadly tortured because of his participation in the peaceful revolution that was quickly attacked by force carried out by the tyrannical regime which failed to achieve the demands of the citizens for democracy.
I was in prison and documented the gross violations of human rights violations against prisoners. I documented 841 cases of violations of human rights. I will mention some of them.
Qassim Hassan Bada the uncle of martyr Ali Badah was arrested from his work place. I saw him in Dry Dock prison and I commented on his condition when he was barely able to stand on his feet because of the severe torture he suffered in the Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID). He told me that he was stripped naked for three days, sexually harassed and forced to sign confessions that he did not know about. He now faces a trial in a court that lacks the most basic standards of justice and human rights.
Citizen Said Al Buni who was with me in the same cell. He was arrested by the security forces in a brutal way which resulted in broken ribs. He was electrocuted and hung from the ceiling so that he would reveal the names of his friends so they could be arrested. He is still not allowed medical treatment.
Sadiq Jaffar Mamoon who is a school student. He was kept in solitary confinement and tortured in a detention centre and shackled in irons even when he was asleep. He was deprived of the most basic rights like contact with his family and his lawyer for days, and subjected to ill treatment in the public prosecution.
This is some of what I witnessed during the 46 days of my detention. It is only one percent of what is going on in Bahrain. We are here not only to talk about human rights violations but to review new strategies and try to exert every effort to stop all kinds of oppression practised against the people of Bahrain. This includes the targeting and arresting of bloggers, human rights defenders, women and children.
We call on all governments, especially that of the United Kingdom to stop this strategy of double standards or else they will lose their credibility in front of the international community. We must forget that people will eventually overcome oppressive regimes and they will be victorious.
Comment: I think Salah Al Bandar has made it clear that there is ethnic cleansing on a grand scale and let me draw attention to the charter of the UN and what it says about ethnic cleansing. It states that ethnic cleansing is a tyrannical act whether it is carried out by stealth or by force. I think what is happening in Bahrain at present is clearly ethnic cleansing and it is affecting the future of the country. I am calling on my colleagues, friends and supporters of the people of Bahrain to raise this issue with the European Union and the agencies of the United Nations.
Lord Avebury: Would you like to talk to Dr Al Bandar after the meeting to see if you can, between you, formulate some approach which would place Dr Al Bandar’s investigation on the plane of a United Nations violation. If there is a violation of the charter here then that needs to be identified and the research that he has done connected with some particular mechanism of the UN so we can take it up. So I urge you to have a chat with him after the meeting to see if that could be done.
Saeed Shehabi: After listening to Salah Al Bandar and to my two sisters here about what is happening there it is clear to me that the situation in Bahrain is no longer just about human rights violations in their classical sense. We are not talking about torture although torture will continue. It will never stop. It was proven to be committed on a systematic scale when Mr Bassouni conducted his investigation. We cannot have tyranny without torture. You cannot have a clean tyrant. Tyrants will always torture and will prevent freedom of speech. We will always have arbitrary detention and all sorts of human right violations. Today the situation is both human rights violations and ethnic cleansing. It could even be described as genocide but the word is too big. If you go to the UN Genocide Law article 2 it states that when you marginalise a section of society to a degree that will lead to their gradual extinction that amounts to genocide. It is not only by the physical cleansing and extermination of people but also by marginalising them so much that it will ensure that they will totally disappear. We do not want to exaggerate the situation but at the same time we do not want to get carried away just with political solutions that are meaningless in the end. Even if they give you the best constitution, the best elections you have lost the game because you are no longer the natives of the country. The natives are the new generation, the new citizens who have been naturalised. It is a very serious situation that needs to be addressed by the opposition and by the human right activists.
Dr Roula Al Saffar: I would also like to draw attention to the dissolving of the Shia Shurah Council. That is a sectarian act against the Shia community of Bahrain. As well as being detained and tortured and sacked from employment the Shurah Council has been dissolved. God help us about what is going to happen next.
Saeed Shehabi: I would like to hear Dr Bandar’s comment on that.
Dr Salah Al Bandar: This is unfortunate really. We talked about this so many years ago here under the patronage of Lord Avebury. It is well known and it is part of the report published by the Gulf Center for Democratic Development. There is a section about all these plans. It is unbelievable. Every time I read these reports I feel I am living a nightmare. It is well publicised, it is available, it is there, it is exposed but nobody would like to take notice.
As a human rights campaigner myself and as a survivor of torture I know the importance and the critical meaning of raising the issue of human rights. You are dealing here with an unconventional case. I have been struggling here with high level advocates. I met so many people from the security agency, from America and the UK.
There is no definition in international law which would allow anybody to take action. The issue of naturalisation is an issue of sovereignty. That is the critical element. That is why I would like to take the issue of naturalisation in Bahrain as a new phase in international human rights mechanisms protection.
It seems to me that 360,000 applications were processed. I have the detailed figures. For the first time in the history of Bahrain the number of foreigners surpassed the indigenous population. There is some kind of psychological warfare here because the conflict is around the issues of identity and who controls the resources. It is around the identity of the country. Who is in charge. Dissolving the Majlis Al Ummah, trying to bring in a family law to regulate how the Shia community is dealing with its affairs. This is going to be irrelevant to the current conflict.
I am keen observer. I love that country. I visited it for the first time in 1974. I have a family there. I have committed myself to the welfare of the country. I never realised there was a deliberate strategy to build a sectarian apartheid in Bahrain. We said this so many times. Now if we are talking about how these people are challenging this. Al Wifaq for example. I am a keen observer. I am not trying to insult anyone. I see a gradual co-optation strategy to bring in the political forces to a playing field where the rules of the game and everything is changing.
When I look at these figures in 2020 when the population is going to be 1.6 million people the Shia community is going to be 30 percent. That is in 2020. In the history of nations five years is nothing. In 2014 the population of foreigners and indigenous people is 1.3 million Next March the current King Hamad is going to celebrate his 15th anniversary of being in power. When he came to power the number of Bahrainis was 464,000. The foreigners were half of that. There is now a deliberate policy to encourage people from Sunni backgrounds to come into Bahrain and to relieve the Shia foreigners.
I have talked to people who have worked with human rights for years and they say this is a distinct new era for us. It is not part and parcel of any mechanism of human rights. It is the Bahraini question. They are well aware of the international mechanisms. I have raised this issue with the Foreign Office so many times. To naturalize a person is a sovereign issue and that is the decision of a state. I want to make a suggestion for the political forces in Bahrain. The regime is using the issue of dialogue every time to buy time. He knows they are transforming the demographic profile of Bahrain on the ground. If in 2014 we have 1.3m population by 2020 it will be 1.6m. These are official figures from the authorities in Bahrain. This is the situation. Maybe we can talk about this in another session with specialists in international law.
Lord Avebury: I think this is a very good idea. Let us take that up to have a separate session in which we can deal entirely with the demographic situation in Bahrain and the ethnic cleansing which is taking place as far as the international community is concerned imperceptibly.
Comment: There are two points I would like to make. What Dr Bandar is saying is absolutely correct. Having been a long time visitor to Bahrain and a non Bahraini British Muslim I have seen a lot of changes taking places. The brother who was in prison talked about new strategies. We have been talking under the auspices of Lord Avebury for the last 30 years and so much wonderful work has been done. But what are the new strategies. That is what the mind should focus on. Is it lobbying the British government, the European Union and the American administration that you guys are cutting your nose to spite your face. If the situation in Bahrain changes democratically you will lose business. You will lose your status and your credibility. We have to make the parliamentarians here realise that it is not in their interest to continue supporting the khalifa regime. That should be the strategy. As long as we keep on crying and saying that people are being killed, ethnic cleansing is taking places nobody cares. But when you tell them it is going to hurt you in your pocket, if the change occurs then they may listen. Mr Kerry talks about regime change all over the place. Maybe he could talk about regime change in Saudi Arabia.
Lord Avebury. That is a very good note on which to end this meeting. We need a fresh look at strategy. I would like to thank everyone for taking part. One final point. As you know the king has recently increased the penalties for insulting himself. Severe sentences were imposed on people who tear up pictures of the king. So why don’t we organise a demonstration outside the Bahraini embassy in which a number of people will come with pictures of the king and tear them up. Thank you very much very attending and a special thanks to our speakers.