Human rights advocates say situation getting worse
The tiny kingdom of Bahrain has charged 60 people, apparently all Shi’ites, with forming a “terrorist group” according to judicial authorities in Bahrain and human rights advocates. The newest charges are the latest example of authorities tightening their grip on any dissent against the King, who is close to Saudi Arabia.
“This is quite major in the country – it’s rare to have this number arrested at the same time,” Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, the Director of Advocacy for Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy told The Media Line. “It’s hard to know exactly what’s going on. There are vague accusations and charges including killing a police officer while trying to escape from prison.”
He said that at least 24 of those on the list are in exile and several others were killed when trying to escape form Bahrain. The rulers in Bahrain are Sunni, while the majority of the population and the opposition is Shi’ite.
The 60 face a mass trial, scheduled to open later this month, for charges including “forming a terrorist group, training in the use of weapons and explosives with the aim of carrying out terrorist attacks and the deliberate killing of policemen”, public prosecutor Ahmad al-Hamadi told reporters.
Authorities have jailed hundreds of people since 2011 in connection with Shiite-led protests demanding an elected government in a country ruled for 200 years by the Al-Khalifa dynasty. Several high-profile clerics and activists, including Sunni Muslims, have been jailed and stripped of citizenship on charges including slander against the state.
The government accuses neighbouring Iran of provoking dissent in the tiny kingdom, located in the Gulf between Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iran. Bahrain, an ally of the United States and home to its Fifth Fleet, has drawn harsh criticism from international human rights groups for its crackdown on protesters.
Human rights activists say that the situation has deteriorated since President Trump took office. Former President Barack Obama had linked US arms sales to Bahrain to progress in human rights. But in May, President Trump told King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa that he would not follow this policy.
“Clearly the US does not see human rights as a priority,” Alwadaei said. There has been an unprecedented crackdown since 2011 which has escalated in recent months.”
In May, police raided a protest sit-in, killing five protestors. Hundreds were wounded including several women. Amnesty International protested in a statement.
“Amnesty International has called on the Bahraini authorities to immediately end the torture and other ill-treatment of human rights defenders and other critics of the government, and to investigate all allegations of torture and other ill-treatment with the intention to bring those responsible to justice through fair trials,” the statement said. “The state must end all forms of reprisals it is currently using against human rights defenders and government critics, targeted solely for the peaceful exercise of their freedom of expression.”
Activists say that the protests will continue whatever the authorities do to try to stop them.
“Every day and every night there are small protests,” Saaed Shehabi of the Bahrain Freedom Movement, based in the UK, told The Media Line. “The authorities think they can uproot the whole phenomenon of protest by targeting the individual. They want to end anything to do with human rights activities.”
But he said, the protests have been going on daily since 2011, and they have no intention of ending them now.
Meanwhile, the UN human rights office has called on Bahrain to “unconditionally and immediately” release rights campaigner Nabeel Rajab, who was sentenced to two years in jail last month.
Rajab, a leading figure in a 2011 pro-democracy uprising that was crushed by the government, was sentenced for allegedly making “false or malicious” statements about authorities.
Criticizing the government should not be a crime,” UN human rights spokeswoman Liz Throssell said. “We note that Mr. Rajab has been detention since June 2016. We call on the Bahraini authorities to immediately and unconditionally release him.”