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Bahrain: A Tortuous Process - HRF on July 2011

Bahrain: A Tortuous Process - HRF on July 2011

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This report is based on research conducted by Human Rights First (HRF) during a second fact-finding mission to Bahrain, from July 6 to July 12. Our findings are derived from in-person interviews with human rights defenders and activists, victims of human rights violations and their families, dozens of recently-released detainees, eyewitnesses to protests and clashes, journalists, students, medical practitioners, Bahraini government representatives, and others.
This report is based on research conducted by Human Rights First (HRF) during a second fact-finding mission to Bahrain, from July 6 to July 12. Our findings are derived from in-person interviews with human rights defenders and activists, victims of human rights violations and their families, dozens of recently-released detainees, eyewitnesses to protests and clashes, journalists, students, medical practitioners, Bahraini government representatives, and others.

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01/08/2013

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Bahrain: A Tortuous Process
July 2011
In early May, when the U.S. government had saidlittle to criticize the violent crackdown against pro-democracy protests in Bahrain, Human RightsFirst embarked on a fact-finding mission todocument the violence and providerecommendations to the U.S. and Bahrainigovernments. We released our findings andrecommendations in a report entitled 
.Some of the earlier report‟s
recommendations to the U.S. government havebeen enacted in part or in whole(seeConclusions and Recommendations).This report is based on research conducted byHuman Rights First during a second fact-findingmission to Bahrain, from July 6 to July 12. Ourfindings are derived from in-person interviewswith human rights defenders and activists, victimsof human rights violations and their families,dozens of recently-released detainees,eyewitnesses to protests and clashes, journalists,students, medical practitioners, Bahrainigovernment representatives, and others.While in Bahrain, a Human Rights First staffmember witnessed riot police firing on unarmedwomen without warning with a variety ofweapons.This report is not intended as a comprehensivesurvey of all human rights violations in Bahrainsince mid-February, but includes illustrative casesand recommends actions the U.S. and Bahrainigovernments should take to address the crisis.It updates information and recommendationsincluded in 
,whichcatalogued case studies of arbitrary arrests,torture, and deaths in and out of custody.While the Bahraini government has prevented areoccurrence of the mass protests of Februaryand March, when tens of thousands of peopledemonstrated, the country remains tense andsmall acts of resistance continue in the face ofong
oing government brutality. “Free Bahrain”
graffiti is scrawled on walls in some villages. Atnight, masked pro-democracy teens buildmakeshift barricades and use aerosol horns toblare a four-beat rhythm across neighborhoodsin imitation of the anti-monarc
hy chant of “Down,Down Hamad.” Marches involving hundreds of 
protestors continue, and are attacked by riotpolice using sound bombs, tear gas, and rubberbullets. Sectarian divides have widened andintensified, making reconciliation even moredifficult.As one young activist told Human Rights First,
“Keeping silent is the worst thing anyone can do.
Older people tend to be more risk averse so Ifelt I had to do this [human rights activism].People get arrested at checkpoints for nothing,depending on the mood of the policeman. If I getarrested, at least I want it to be for somethinghumanitarian. I go to protests. It feels right that Ido this; it makes me feel less helpless. Even if
we know we‟ll be attacked we have to show the
authorities and the world we
‟re not giving up.”
 
 
 
Bahrain
 –
July 2011 Page 2 of 15
Overview
On February 14, 2011, inspired by the ArabSpring elsewhere in the Middle East, reformprotests began in Bahrain, the smallest country in
the region, and home to the U.S. Navy‟s Fifth
Fleet. Most of the protestors were Shiite Muslims,members of the branch of Islam to which mostBahrainis belong, but there were significantnumbers of Sunni Muslims too in the early daysof the protests. Their protests concentrated onthe Pearl Roundabout area of the city.The protesters demanded elections, democraticreform and an end to discrimination againstShiites in employment and other areas ofBahraini life. The Al Khalifa royal family has ruledBahrain since independence from Britain in 1971.Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, the
world‟s longest
-serving unelected prime minister,has held that post for forty years. King Hamad binIsa Al Khalifa, ruler since 2002, studied at theU.S. Army Command and Staff College in FortLeavenworth, Kansas.During the protests, some pro-governmentdemonstrators, mostly from the minority Sunnicommunity, organized competing rallies. TheBahraini government broke up the reform protestsin a crackdown marked by excessive force, andat least seven people were killed. The securityforces withdrew from the Pearl Roundabout onFebruary 18, the demonstrators reclaimed thearea, and the protests resumed.Some started to call for more radical reforms,including an end to the monarchy.In mid-March the government imposed a State ofNational Safety, and around 1,000 troops fromneighboring Saudi Arabia arrived in Bahrain toassist in restoring order. The Bahraini securityforces stormed protestors at the PearlRoundabout area for the second time, andcleared the demonstrators in a large show offorce. At least two protestors and two policemenwere killed, and scores were injured by thesecurity forces.A severe crackdown ensued, involving arbitraryarrests, disappearances, torture, attacks on Shiitereligious sites, show trials in military courts, largenumbers of people suspended or fired from their jobs, at least four deaths in custody, and anumber of other civilian deaths on the streetunder suspicious circumstances.On June 1 the State of National Safety was liftedbut those sentenced by the military courts havenot been released, others awaiting trial remainin detention, and hundreds of students havebeen expelled from their universities. Two Shiitemen have been sentenced to death for allegedlykilling a police officer during the protests.More detailed reports of torture in detention areemerging as some detainees are freed.On June 22, 21 political and human rightsactivists were sentenced in an unfair trial fallingfar below international legal standards, with 8receiving life sentences and the remaining 13given between two and fifteen yearsimprisonment. While the military court trials havestopped, the cases which began in them arebeing transferred to civilian courts. Both theprocess and timeline in these proceedings areunclear to defendants and their lawyers. Theseinclude the 47 cases brought against doctorsand other medical professionals apparentlyprosecuted for providing medical treatment toprotestors.Two days after the government lifted theemergency laws, the Formula One Grand Prixauthorities announced that the previouslypostponed 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix would bescheduled for October. That decision wasoverturned a week later, following aninternational outcry about awarding theprestigious international sporting event toBahrain during a continued crackdown ondissent.On June 15 the U.S. Labor Departmentannounced that it had accepted a complaint filedin April by the AFL/CIO, the largest U.S. labororganization, alleging violations of laborprotections contained in the free-tradeagreement between the United States andBahrain, signed in 2006. Specifically, the AFL-CIO petition highlights well-documented,widespread, and serious violations of humanrights, including labor rights. The LaborDepartment said it would seek information about
whether Bahrain‟s actions violate the
agreement.
 
 
Bahrain
 –
July 2011 Page 3 of 15
On July 2 a government-
organized “NationalDialogue” began in Bahrain with strong public
support from the U.S. government. It facedimmediate criticism from human rights defendersin Bahrain, however, as being unrepresentativeand cosmetic. A few days before the dialoguestarted, the King of Bahrain announced theestablishment of a human rights commissioncomprised of internationally-recognized experts toinvestigate human rights violations sinceFebruary.
Human Rights Defendersand the Crackdown
The situation for human rights defenders inBahrain remains difficult and dangerous. Despitethe lifting of the emergency laws, some arebanned from leaving the country, and fear arrest,physical assault, and detention. Some prominentactivists like Abdulhadi Al Khawaja remain indetention (Al Khawaja was one of thosesentenced on June 21 to life in prison in the majorshow trial). Foreign journalists continue to beharassed. Nabeel Rajab, president of the BahrainCenter for Human Rights (BCHR), and MaryamAl Khawaja, also of BCHR, have been targeted inan anonymous smear campaign accusing them of27 crimes, including torture and the murder ofcivilians and members of the Bahraini securityforces.Other defenders, speaking on condition ofanonymity, say they live in fear of attack byBahraini security forces, and assume that theirtelephone conversations are monitored.Protesters wounded by security forces toldHuman Rights First they are still afraid to seektreatment at hospitals or other government healthcenters in case they are arrested or tortured.Some, such as Rajab, were unconcerned aboutbeing seen talking to Human Rights First, butmost remain nervous, making elaboratearrangements to meet in out of the way places.Victims of human rights violations took significantrisks to tell Human Rights First what hadhappened to them, as some had been forced tosign a pledge saying they would not discuss thedetails of their detention when they werereleased.Mohammed Al-Maskati of the Bahrain Youth
Society for Human Rights said, “We [human
rights activists] live under the constant fear of
arrest. They can come at any time for us.”
Another human rights defender said she hasbeen in more than one house that was raided by
the police in recent months. “I still wake up
scared. I have clothes ready, next to the bed. Iget up sometimes in the middle of the night andlook out of the window if I hear a noise, thinking
it‟s them again. It‟s a permanent fear that they
coul
d come at any time, day or night.” Another 
young activist told Human Rights First how sheslept fully dressed in case the police came forher during the night.The U.S. embassy in Manama has contactedsome of the families of those detained, andbroadened the range of human rights defendersit speaks to, as recommended in Human Rights
First‟s May 2011 report 
.The presence of Assistant Secretary ofState Michael Posner at one of the military trialhearings of medical personnel in Manama inmid-June was also cited as a positive gesture bysome human rights defenders. Bahraini media
continues to attack U.S. “interference” inBahrain‟s
affairs. On June 5 the newspaper
Al Wasat 
published an editorial declaring that
“American black fingers are aiming to weakenthe Gulf” states so that the U.S. can establish itsown “Greater Middle East.” Other media attacks
have targeted individual officials, including U.S.embassy officers Ludovic Hood and StephanieWilliams. Williams was accused in the
Akbar Al Khaleej 
newspaper on June 4 of colluding with
opposition groups and adopting a “sectarianShiite agenda.”
 However, human rights defenders continue tocomplain that the United States is less forcefuland clear in its statements about human rightsviolations in Bahrain than it is with othercountries in the Middle East, and that there is
still a “double standard” on Bahrain, where
criticism of the Bahraini government remainsmuted and vague. Several complained that U.S.statements on Bahrain often start with anassurance that Bahrain is a strong partner, orimportant ally.

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