Bahrain: A Case Study in Despotism

Imagining the Unthinkable
March 31, 2012
Obama Plans Regime Change in Syria
April 1, 2012

Bahrain: A Case Study in Despotism
by Stephen Lendman
In summer 2010, sporadic protests began. By mid-February last year, major ones erupted. From then to now, they challenged repressive rule nonviolently. They continue daily. At issue is King Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa’s regime.
Bahrainis want democratic change, sectarian Shia discrimination ended, equitable distribution of state wealth, political prisoners released, and terrorizing stopped. They also want popularly elected leaders replacing Al-Khalifa rule. It’s despotic, ruthless and intolerable.
For months, many thousands braved security force attacks with tear gas, beatings, rubber bullets, live fire, arrests, torture, and disappearances.
Last March, Saudi troops entered Bahrain guns blazing. They remain, terrorizing Bahraini men, women, children, doctors, journalists, human rights activists, and foreign observers. So do state police.
No matter. King Hamad’s a close US ally. Bahrain’s the home of America’s Fifth Fleet. Generous aid’s provided. So are weapons, including armored vehicles, bunker buster missiles, wire-guided ones, others to attack protesters, and more.
On March 26, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) published a report titled, “A BCHR Report on Human Rights Violations since the BICI Recommendations.”
BICI refers to the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry. It published its findings last November 23, followed by a final December revision.
Abdul Hadi Al-Khawaja is a former Front Line Protection Coordinator and former BCHR President. Last April, Bahraini police arrested and beat him unconscious. He’s currently hunger striking for justice. Earlier, he twice did for nine days. His current one began on February 8. As of March 31, he refused food for 53 days. He demands freedom or death.
His life’s seriously at risk. He’s been unjustly imprisoned and severely tortured. Last June, he was sentenced to life in prison. At issue is his courageous human rights work. Without help, he’ll die. Washington and rogue NATO partners ignore him. So do Arab League despots and major media scoundrels.
BCHR’s report discussed months of state terror. It categorized them under separate headings. They include:
Extrajudicial Killings
Over 60 deaths are known. No murder charges followed. A few police “show trials” involved “accidental deaths or beatings” causing death. Bahrain’s government denies responsibility.
No independent access to examine forensic evidence was granted. Doctors who wrote false causes weren’t held accountable. Families of those killed are targeted. Homes are raided. Arrests follow. Property is destroyed. Bahrainis continue to be terrorized.
Arbitrary Arrests
Since February 2011, they number about 4,000, including over 90 journalists. All were lawless. About 40% were under age 18. Over 50% followed peaceful protests or for attending a martyr’s funeral. Most were by pre-dawn raids. Security forces are accompanied by armed men in civilian clothes.
Torture and Excessive Use of Force
At least three torture related deaths are known. The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture’s planned visit to Bahrain was delayed twice, most recently in mid-March.
Videos and pictures confirm hundreds of excessive force cases. Resulting injuries include wounds, bruises, fractures, and internal bleeding. Anyone involved in helping those affected face reprisal attacks or worse.
Causes of injury include physical assaults, rubber bullets, sound grenades, lead shot pellets, live fire, and tear gas. Some believe toxic gas is used. About 30% of those injured were under age 20.
Video evidence shows security forces throwing molotov cocktails, stones, and iron rods at protesters. Knives are also used to inflict wounds. Many suffer severe beatings.
What’s known only represents documented cases. Many others occurred. Security forces continue to ram jeeps and Turkish APV vehicles into nonviolent protesters.
On average, around 15 villages are tear gassed nightly. Security forces fire canisters directly into homes, usually late at night. Those affected report disturbing symptoms, including severe abdominal pains, vomiting, vomiting blood, temporary blindness, temporary memory loss, shivers, seizures, and long-lasting breathing difficulties.
Clearly something more noxious than ordinary tear gas is used. Earlier reports said Bahrain imported toxic gas from America. The Arabic language Al-Alam news channel said it obtained video evidence of poisonous tear gas grenades used. Doctors believe it’s nerve gas. Eight or more Bahrainis died from exposure.
Doctors also worry about long term effects, as well as on future generations. When combined with water cannons, protesters risk suffocation.
“Bahraini security forces continue to engage in the systematic torture of demonstrators in detention centers.”
For months, those held have been brutally harassed, beaten, arrested, sexually assaulted, and tortured. Medical care’s denied. So are lawyer and family member visits.
On January 27, Mohammed Ibrahim Yaqoub died hours after being arrested. Eyewitnesses said up to 20 police officers severely beat him in the stomach and chest. Bahrain’s Interior Ministry said death was caused by sickle cell anemia.
Children have been viciously attacked. Examples include 9-year old Abdulla Hussain. He was severely beaten. Others nearly suffocated from tear gas exposure. Infants suffer breathing problems. Children require hospitalization. Others sleep in bathrooms. They’re the only tear gas free areas in many homes.
Political Prisoners
All arrests and detentions are lawless. Around 600 detained are politically related. Their sentences range from six months to life. Among others, they include doctors, journalists, and human rights activists.
On February 14, Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights’ Naji Fateel was arrested along with BCHR’s director Nabeel Rajab. Sham trials ended in convictions. Up to 300 hunger struck for justice.
Religious Discrimination
Thirty-five Shia mosques were destroyed. Rebuilding began in only five. Those involved are being penalized. Religious processions are attacked. People are being tear gassed for praying on demolished mosque land.
Residents trying to rebuild are attacked and prevented. Demolitions follow partial rebuilding efforts.
At least 100 cases are documented. Another 150 are believed to have occurred. The latest incident happened on March 21. Others can follow any time. Typically they include beatings, torture, sexual assault, knife wounds, rape, burns, theft, and threats to cooperate as informers.
In March 2011, dismissals began. Others were suspended without pay. As of early March, the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU) estimates 1,776 fired or suspended government and private sector workers, including 46 trade unionists.
In February, a teacher was convicted for refusing to work during a strike. GFBTU also estimates over 14,500 without work because of layoffs. Most are politically related.
Reinstated workers are forced to sign contracts pledging no future involvement in political or civil society activities. They also received lower positions, weren’t compensated for time lost, were deprived of leaves, and got salary cuts.
Individuals and companies responsible for state ordered sackings weren’t held accountable.
Student Dismissals and Suspension of Scholarships
Over 140 students received show trials. Thirty-seven got one year in prison, another 37 six months, 14 fined 200 Bahraini Dinars, 32 assessed 500 Bahraini Dinars, and 22 found innocent.
Prison sentences have yet to be enforced. Six students are still detained. Military courts sentenced them to 15 years plus fines for participating in an unauthorized event. Although most weren’t involved, they’re still imprisoned. All were tortured to extract false confessions.
Students continue to be targeted. Earlier in March, 20 school girls were suspended for one week for “chanting political slogans.”
Show Trials
Through October last year, 502 Bahrainis were convicted. Another 437 referred from military to public prosecutions remain ongoing. Hundreds of released detainees still face civil trials.
Teachers are being tried and convicted. So are doctors for treating injured protesters. Anyone arrested while protesting faces harsh treatment, detention, torture, and possible imprisonment after show trials. Charges include participating in illegal gatherings.
Military courts sentenced children under age 18 to terms up to 15 years. Public assembly and free expression are crimes. Everyone’s vulnerable for any reason or none at all.
Military courts automatically convicted by accusation. Civil ones aren’t much better. Rogue regimes operate that way. Justice is systematically denied. Due process and judicial fairness don’t exist.
Witnessing Harassment
International journalists and photojournalists were targeted. Others were denied visas. State media ignore protest actions. Press TV reports them often, including live video footage.
Amnesty International cancelled a scheduled March 2 – 9 visit due to government restrictions and perhaps threats. The fate of blogger Ali Abdulemam remains unknown. A military court sentenced him to 15 years. He disappeared after March last year.
In mid-February, blogger Hasan AlJaber was arrested and remains imprisoned. Over 90 sacked journalists and other media professionals still have no work. Some live in exile fearing harassment, imprisonment or death.
Some journalists covering protests were directly targeted with tear gas and sound grenades. Seventeen Witness Bahrain activists were deported. Most were beaten and injured.
“No member of the Bahraini Security Forces has been (charged or) convicted of human rights violations at detention centers.” Their names and positions aren’t revealed.
Saudi and other GulF Cooperation Council (GCC) forces remain in Bahrain. Under international law, it’s illegal. So is brutalizing nonviolent protesters.
Security forces shot directly into Abbas Abdulla’s car, setting it ablaze. He’s lucky to be alive. He filed a complaint, was arrested, is now detained, likely tortured, and awaits prosecution despite no offense committed.
“Security forces continue to commit violations against (protesters) and human rights activists on a daily basis through excessive force, intimidation, ill treatment, and collective punishment with impunity.”
Those implicated in torture cases include members of the Al-Khalifa monarchy. Among other positions, they run the National Security Apparatus, the police, the Criminal Investigation Directorate, Bahrain’s Royal Guard, Bahrain’s Defense Force, the courts, and all state ministries.
BCHR urges immediately ending human rights violations, violent repression of peaceful protests, unconditionally releasing political prisoners, and ending torture, arbitrary arrests and detentions, as well as holding detainees incommunicado.
It also wants all dismissed workers reinstated to former positions and compensated for lost lost wages. In addition, it endorses public assemblies, protests, and free expression, as well as ending harassment, intimidation, and arrests of human rights defenders, political activists, journalists and others
Moreover, it wants doctors freely able to treat the injured, those responsible for state terror held accountable, a culture of impunity ended, an independent judiciary created, redress and reparations for victims, and international law respected.
As long as the Al-Khalifa monarchy’s a valued US ally, state terror will remain official policy. US supplied weapons will enforce it. Bahrainis wanting democratic change will be brutalized as are others across the region struggling for their rights.
Washington supports the worst regional despots. Nothing will change until public activism achieves it. It continues throughout the region courageously. Across North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia, people want freedom and right to protest nonviolently for it. In Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan, they’re dying for it.
Sustained commitment that strong one day will prevail, including in Bahrain. Bet on it.
A Final Comment
The contrast between Bahrain and Syria is stark. Assad’s blamed for confronting months of Western-generated violence. He’s obligated to restore security and calm. Most Syrians support him. They deplore raging killer gang terror.
Nonetheless, Obama and other administration officials demand he step down. Under international law, including the UN Charter, no nation may interfere in the internal affairs of others. Washington does it as policy.
It also ignores the most egregious human rights abuses of allies. While wrongfully censuring Assad, it’s silent on brutal Bahraini state terror and similar practices in other repressive Arab League states.
The hypocrisy’s stark, duplicitous, and abhorrent. So is lockstep scoundrel media support. Washington’s imperium alone matters.
No wonder America makes more enemies than friends, and alliances build against it. It’s the fate of all empires. They come. They grow. They overstretch and die. They all end in history’s trash bin and texts recounting their rise and fall. It’s just a matter of time.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at
Also visit his blog site at 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.

Stephen Lendman
Stephen Lendman
Stephen Lendman was born in 1934 in Boston, MA. In 1956, he received a BA from Harvard University. Two years of US Army service followed, then an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in 1960. After working seven years as a marketing research analyst, he joined the Lendman Group family business in 1967. He remained there until retiring at year end 1999. Writing on major world and national issues began in summer 2005. In early 2007, radio hosting followed. Lendman now hosts the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network three times weekly. Distinguished guests are featured. Listen live or archived. Major world and national issues are discussed. Lendman is a 2008 Project Censored winner and 2011 Mexican Journalists Club international journalism award recipient.