Freedom House Hosts Bahraini Human Rights Activists One Year After the Uprising
February 16, 2012
By: Garrett Nada | Printer Friendly
Before dawn on February 14, police forces deployed to the Shi’ite villages around the Bahraini capital city of Manama in an effort to prevent protestors from gathering at the former Pearl Square Roundabout, the symbol of last year’s uprising. The BBC reported that the police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at youths, who then threw petrol bombs and stones back. According to the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, 27 protestors were arrested. The United States-based group, Witness Bahrain, claimed that six US citizens were arrested during a march. In response, the Bahrain government announced that it would deport the six individuals for lying about the nature of their visits by falsely using tourist visas.
On February 15, Freedom House hosted a panel with three Bahraini human rights activists who discussed the situation in the country, prospects for political reform and the United States’ policy toward the situation. The panelists included Maryam Al-Khawaja (Bahrain Center for Human Rights), Husain Abdullah (Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain) and Jalil Al-Rahdi (independent activist).
Maryam Al-Khawaja discussed how the situation in Bahrain has not improved over last several months since the government has yet to free political prisoners, stop its use of torture or allow citizens to peacefully assemble. She stated that the security forces have become progressively more violent through use of tear gas, rubber bullets, sound bombs and iron rods. The youth have responded by throwing Molotov cocktails, in what they consider as acts of “self-defense.” Al-Khawaja clarified her organization’s stance, stating that they do not condone the use of violence under any circumstances.
Al-Khawaja also warned of the Bahraini government’s attempt to engineer a sort of “blackout” in Bahrain to keep information from leaking to the world press. She has observed the government spamming hashtags on Twitter, spreading misinformation online, posting false allegations against her and other activists and attempting to belittle the opposition. Furthermore, several human rights organizations, like Freedom House have recently been denied visas. Al-Khawaja believes there are three things that need to happen in succession before the Bahraini people can begin to solve the root causes of their problems: the government must cease violating the human rights of its citizens and release all political prisoners, justice must be delivered through a reconciliation process, and the people must democratically choose their government. She concluded that change will happen in Bahrain through one of two ways, the first being a long and bloody process and the second being a shorter one aided by international pressure.
Husain Abdullah reiterated the importance of freeing the political prisoners before attempting any sort of reconciliation process. He attempted to disprove the Bahraini government’s claim that there is no political issue and that the unrest is due to societal cleavages. Abdullah dismissed the notion that the revolution is a conflict between Sunni and Shi’ite citizens. He clarified the demands of the opposition, which desires a parliament with real legislative power and the establishment of a constitutional monarchy.
Jalil Al-Rahdi, who fled the country after his brother and brother in law were killed, discussed the regime’s brutal tactics and disregard for international law. He witnessed soldiers firing at close range and the intimidation tactics used to prevent doctors from treating injured protestors.
The panelists agreed that American and international NGOs are playing an important role in disseminating information about the condition of human rights in Bahrain. They criticized the United States’ policy towards Bahrain as hypocritical and inconsistent given its position vis-à-vis other Arab dictators over the past year. Although they hope that advocacy will change the Obama administration’s orientation, they do not expect the United States to act against the wishes of Saudi Arabia, which supports the Bahraini monarchy politically and militarily against the opposition. The panelists seemed confident that political reform will occur at some point in Bahrain, but stipulated that international pressure would be needed to enact change within the near future.
For previous news on Bahrain, please see:
Bahraini Activists Begin Hunger Strike
BBC - Bahrain restricts protests on uprising anniversary