Police State Terror in Bahrain – by Stephen Lendman
Last summer sporadic protests began. By mid-February, major ones erupted. Demonstrators held firm against King Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa’s regime. Repression and several deaths were reported from live fire.
Anti-government protesters occupied Manama’s Pearl Roundabout, Bahrain’s equivalent of Cairo’s Tahrir Square. They demanded democratic elections, ending sectarian discrimination favoring Sunnis over Shias, equitable distribution of the country’s oil wealth, and resignation of the king’s uncle, Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, prime minister since 1971. They also want political prisoners released and state terror ended.
For weeks, many thousands defied government demands, braving police attacks with tear gas, beatings, rubber bullets, live fire, arrests, torture, and disappearances.
On February 14, Canada’s National Post writer Peter Goodspeed headlined, “Trouble in tiny Bahrain (population 1.2 million) carries big implications,” saying:
If Bahrain becomes democratic, people throughout the region will be inspired to demand it. As a result, “the ramifications for US foreign policy could be severe. Bahrain is home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet,” the Pentagon “station(ing) 15 warships, including an aircraft battle group, in the very heart of the Persian Gulf.”
“The island state off the coast of Saudi Arabia provides Washington with a perfect base from which it can protect the (region’s) flow of oil, keep an eye on Iran and support pro-Western monarchies against potential threats.”
On March 14, fearing uprisings against their own regimes, over 1,500 Saudi Arabia-led Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) military and police security forces invaded Bahrain guns blazing. They attacked peaceful protesters, arrested opposition leaders and activists, occupied the country, denied wounded men and women medical treatment, and imposed police state control in support of the hated monarchy.
The Obama administration was very instrumental in their coming, to prevent the possibility of emerging democracy in Bahrain or elsewhere in the region.
News of the intervention, however, brought larger crowds to the streets. They occupied the Pearl Roundabout, set up barricades against vicious attacks, and persisted against fierce repression.
On April 1, Bahrain’s al-Wefaq party, its largest anti-government opposition, claimed security forces arrested over 300 protesters since mid-March, dozens still missing. Prominent blogger, Mahmoud al-Youssef, was among the disappeared, taken into custody on March 30.
Tanks were positioned at prominent sites. Police checkpoints were set up throughout the country. Unidentified gangs, believed to be plainclothes security forces, conducted nighttime raids on homes in poor Shiite neighborhoods. Residents reported assaults and confiscations of their property.
In short order, Pearl Roundabout protesters were violently routed. Since mid-February, perhaps dozens were killed, hundreds injured, and many more arrested, tortured, and disappeared.
Bahrain Human Rights Center (BHRC) head Nabeel Rajab said several dozen masked men raided his home in mid-March, “threaten(ing) to rape me and one man was touching my body. They hit me with shoes and punched me with fists. They were insulting me, saying things like, ‘You’re Shiite so go back to Iran.’ “
Blindfolded and arrested, he was beaten for two hours, then released. Another gang returned a few days later, threatening him and journalists present at the time. Extreme repression quelled protests and strikes, but anti-regime opposition persists. One man fired from his teaching job said:
“We cannot stop. We might go quiet for a bit to mourn the dead and treat the injured and see those in jail, but then we will rise up again.”
Journalists were also threatened, including the country’s only opposition newspaper, Al-Wasat, shut down in late March to silence it. The Bahrain News Agency called its coverage “unethical” for reporting accurately on government repression. Its editor and co-owner, Mansoor al-Jamri, said it was an attempt to suppress independent news, explaining:
“There is now no other voice but that of the state. The news blackout is so intense.” Its print and online editions are now closed to prevent vital information from being published.
Bahraini state terror got so extreme even The New York Times took note in its “Bahrain News – The Protests (2011)” section. On April 7, it said:
“Bahrain has taken on the likeness of a police state. There have been mass arrests, mass firings of government workers, reports of torture and the forced resignation of the top editor of the nation’s one independent newspaper.”
Moreover, emergency law provisions let security forces search buildings and homes with no warrant, as well as “dissolve any organization, including legal political parties, deemed a danger to the state.”
On April 6, writer Clifford Krauss headlined, “Bahrain’s Rulers Tighten Their Grip on Battered Opposition,” saying:
“The intensity of the repression is pushing some toward militancy, while others are holding back, at least for now.” Earlier mass demonstrations dwindled to smaller ones and marches, many outside Manama in villages like Saar and Shahrakkan.
Two released political prisoners said detainees are being tortured with electric shocks, beatings, sexual abuse, and other indignities. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) researcher Dan Williams:
“They are leaving no oppressive stone unturned. They enter homes of people already detained and ransack (them). They are keeping people in detention with limited (or no) access to their lawyers and families.”
On April 12, Krauss headlined, “Hospital Is Drawn Into Bahrain Strife,” saying:
Masked soldiers “guard the front gate of Salmaniya Medical Complex. Inside clinics are virtually empty of patients, many of whom, doctors say, have been hauled away for detention after participating in protests.”
Doctors, nurses, and other medical staff have also been arrested, officials calling Salmaniya (Bahrain’s largest public hospital) and local clinics hotbeds of “radical Shiite conspirators trying to destabilize the country.”
Doctors, however, say Salmaniya and other medical facilities have been targeted by state terror. As a result, sick and injured Bahrainis have nowhere to go for treatment.
The Obama administration steadfastly supports the Al-Khalifa regime and other regional despots, saying practically nothing about their abuses, no matter how extreme, while pretending to support democratic change in Libya.
On April 11, a Washington Post editorial expressed concern headlining, “The US silence on Bahrain’s crackdown,” saying:
While condemning human rights abuses in Libya and bloody crackdowns in Syria, “the president and his administration remain mostly silent about another ugly campaign of repression underway in the Arab world, in the Persian Gulf emirate of Bahrain.”
However, instead of denouncing it, WP called it “counterproductive (and) likely to foment the very problem that its advocates seek to prevent: a sectarian uprising in the region that could be exploited by Iran.”
“Worse, Defense Secretary (Gates) appeared to bolster the (Saudi intervention) during a visit last week to Riyadh, saying that ‘we already have evidence that the Iranians are trying to exploit the situation in Bahrain.’ “
At the same time, the Bahrain News Agency (BNA) said US CENTCOM head General James Mattis and US deputy chief of mission Stephanie Williams met with Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, Bahrain’s crown prince and deputy supreme commander.
According to BNA, Al-Khalifa “hailed (Washington’s) support for Bahrain’s security and stability which epitomizes strong ties bonding the two friendly countries. He also stressed the kingdom’s keenness to further promote bilateral relations and cooperation mainly in the military and defense field….Both sides also reviewed regional developments and the need to safeguard regional security and stability.”
On April 11, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint program of the International Federation for Human Rights and World Organization Against Torture, expressed grave concern for Bahraini human rights defenders following stepped up crackdowns.
On April 9, masked police arrested and severely beat Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, former Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) president, and two of his sons-in-law, Wafi Almajid and Hussein Ahmed, at his daughter’s home.
Mohammad Al-Maskati, another son-in-law, as well as president of the Bahrain Society for Human Rights, was present, severely beaten, but not arrested.
On April 10, BCHR reported over 600 arrests and disappearances, including 30 women and children, one aged 12. No information is available on their whereabouts, status or condition. Those detained include dissidents, activists, journalists, bloggers, students, teachers, doctors, lawyers, poets, artists, sculptors, photographers, political society members, and anyone for democratic change.
On April 12, BCHR and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned Zakariya Rashid Hassan’s death in detention, six days after he was charged with inciting hatred, disseminating false news, promoting sectarian violence, and calling for regime change. His family rejected the interior ministry’s claim that he died from sickle cell anemia complications. His body showed clear signs of abuse.
BCHR and RSF also expressed concern for Nabeel Rajab, BCHR head, accused of fabricating photo evidence of injuries to Ali Isa Saqer, another detainee who died in custody, clearly from abuse.
On March 28, general decree Decision No. 5 of 2011 prohibited publication of any information relating to ongoing state investigations on national security grounds. The measure reinforces others used to silence dissent and truth, especially about human rights violations.
As a result, on April 3, charges were filed against three Al-Wasat journalists for allegedly “fabricating” news detrimental to Bahrain’s international image and reputation. Those affected include editor Mansour Al-Jamari, managing editor Walid Nouihid, and local news editor Aqil Mirza. On the same day, two Al-Wasat Iraqi journalists since 2005 were summarily deported.
Earlier, BCHR reported children being abducted, detained, and abused, saying security crackdowns arrested 76, about one-fifth of the 355 known total at the time. It noted that “special forces attack people randomly, especially children who are at risk of excessive use of force, rubber bullets and tear gas.”
As a result, many sustained serious injuries. Moreover, BCHR received many complaints from families of victims. One case, typical of others, involved Ali Abbas Radhi, aged 14. Running an errand for his father, he returned bloodstained, his clothes dusty, his head wounded, his body showing clear signs of abuse, including a fractured leg.
He told BCHR that:
“Riot police asked me to stop so I obeyed their orders, but a group of them pointed their weapons toward me which made me panic and try to flee in fear of getting killed. The riot police chased me until they caught me, and they assaulted me by beating me and kicking me with their boots or with the butts of their guns to my head and all over my body as well as cursing and insulting members of my family with dirty words.”
Numerous other random attacks against men, women and children were and continue to be similar, many resulting in arrests, detention, torture, disappearances, and an unknown number of deaths, believed to be dozens.
Since state crackdowns began last summer, many children as well as adults have been arrested and abused. Lucky ones were released far from home in their underwear, or in some cases naked.
More recently, under a state of emergency, severe crackdowns continue to terrorize government opponents, subjecting anyone to arbitrary arrest, detention, torture, and disappearance any time for any reason, or none based on bogus suspicions.
A Final Comment
On April 12, 19 human rights organizations condemned Bahraini state terror, their joint press release saying:
The undersigned “severely condemn the authorities’ crackdown on prominent human rights defenders….We are gravely concerned for (their) safety and well-being….”
“Human rights organizations estimate that over 600 individuals (including human rights activists and political opponents) remain in Bahraini prisons at high risk of torture and ill-treatment. It is a particularly alarming situation given that torture is a virtually systematic practice that has been used against activists increasingly since last year.”
In this context, we firmly believe that Bahrain’s membership in the UN Human Rights Council (should) be suspended….Furthermore, the undersigned organizations (condemn the) complicity and lack of political will from international actors, particularly the US and EU (for) turn(ing) a blind eye (to) massive and systematic human rights violations in this region of the world.”
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Arab Organization for Human Rights, Syria
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, Egypt
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights
Center for Trade Unions and Workers’ Services, Egypt
Committees for the Defense of Democracy, Freedom and Human Rights, Syria
Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies
Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement
Hisham Mubarak Law Center, Egypt
Human Rights First Society, Saudi Arabia
Human Rights Organization in Syria, MAF
Iraqi Human Rights Association in Denmark
Kurdish Committee for Human Rights in Syria al-Rased
Kurdish Organization for the Defense of Human Rights and Public Freedoms in Syria, DAD
National Organization for Human Rights in Syria
New Woman Research Center, Egypt
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
Yemeni Organization for Defending Rights and Democratic Freedoms
Other human rights groups, around 1,500 NGOs, and the International Trade Union Confederation (and its 301 affiliated members in 151 countries) also denounced Bahraini state terror.
Appealing to the international community, they called for those responsible to be held accountable. So far, daily crackdowns continue, Bahrainis still terrorized by US-backed militarized repression.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.