Commentary

The Royal Stall

While unarmed civilians die on Bahrain’s streets, the king of the tiny oil-rich nation continues to tell his people he is eager for dialogue and refuses entry to a prominent human rights champion from the U.S.

Denied a visa was Richard Sollom, deputy president of the US-Based Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), who was hoping to attend the trial of doctors and nurses that treated injured protestors during months of unrest last year.

He left for Dubai, from where he told The Washington Post, “I am quite stunned. This was the first time a member of an international rights organization came to Bahrain after authorities promised to respect human rights and told us we can come and see for ourselves.

“We can see now that not much has changed,” he added.

Sollom thus became the second huan rights executive to be denied entry to Bahrain. Brian Dooley of Human Rights First, a major US-based human rights organization, applied for a visa but received a letter from Bahrain’s Minister for Human Rights and Social Development, Fatima Al Booshi, on January 11th suggesting he should delay his entry until the end of February.

In his reply, Dooley reminded the Minister that she told him on November 24th 2011 that non-government organizations (NGOs) would have access to Bahrain if they gave “five days’ notice of their arrival”. Brian informed the “Human Rights” Ministry of his proposed visit next week, on December 20th.

Bahrain’s Foreign Minister, Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa, also assured human rights groups that NGOs would have “unfettered access to Bahrain.”

In his letter to the Minister, Dooley also noted  that, at the release of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report in November, King Hamad had assured the world that ‘any Government which has a sincere desire for reform and progress understands the benefit of objective and constructive criticism,’ and that the day of the report of the BICI report ‘turns a new page of history.’ ”

Calling this a backward step for the Kingdom, Faisal Fulad, President of the Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRWS), said: “His Majesty the King has made it clear that Bahrain has nothing to hide when he opened the country up to the world in October, facing the truth of an independent commission which reported last year’s democratic protests.”

He added: “So why are we now back to this? By not allowing a human rights activist to enter the kingdom, we are giving conflicting messages to the world that will now be asking, once again – is Bahrain a free and democratic country or not?”

He suggested a “return to an offer of talks put on the table last March” by the Crown Prince and the Deputy Supreme Commander.” Members of the opposition have made similar calls.

The Crown Prince had proposed a National Dialogue that included talks on seven key points: A parliament with full authority; a government that represents the will of the people; a review of naturalization; fair voting districts; the combating of corruption; state property; and addressing sectarian tension.

Bahrain’s King and his family are Sunni Arabs. Most of the Bahraini population consists of Shia Muslims and foreign workers. The Shias have long-standing complaints of discrimination against them in jobs, housing and social acceptance.

“Bahrain’s leadership has taken many brave steps forward in the last year to show that democracy is alive in the kingdom, but this move seems to take us back to stage one,” Fulad said, adding:

“I believe this is a time for the second phase of dialogue and to concentrate on HRH the Crown Prince’s seven points. At the same time, reforms should be stronger so that people will believe reform is happening.”

Meanwhile, human rights defenders, medics, students and others targeted by the Bahraini government in its crackdown on pro-democracy efforts continue to face abusive detention despite growing calls for their release.

One of those calls came from United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called for the unconditional release of all Bahraini detainees imprisoned after a military trial. Human Rights First (HRF) noted that the Bahraini government had failed to comply with that request and, in fact, “is taking steps to delay the appeals of those accused.”

“Yesterday, a group of students from the University of Bahrain who were sentenced to 15 years each by the military court had their appeal hearing postponed until March. Five of them remain in Bahrain’s Jaw Prison,” said HRF’s Dooley.

“Their case and others like it make clear that Bahrain’s leaders are ignoring key calls for reform issued by Commissioner Pillay and even the Kingdom’s own Bassiouni Commission,” he said.

In addition to the students, the Bahrain regime continues to contest the appeals of others sentenced by the military court, including 20 medics who appear to have been prosecuted for treating injured protestors and telling the media about the nature and extent of injuries.

Dr. Nada Dhaif is one of the medics sentenced to 15 years after a trial in military court. Dr. Dhaif was summoned by the police for a four-hour interrogation on December 25.  During that interrogation, she was warned to keep a low profile, an apparent government response to her decision to speak with the media and human rights organizations about how she and others were tortured in detention.

Dr. Dhaif told Dooley, “I am being targeted for telling the world the continuing truth about Bahrain. Members of my family are also being harassed by the regime. I have only ever advocated peaceful reform but am being threatened for my human rights advocacy.”

Local human rights activists also report ongoing concerns about treatment in custody. Hassan Oun, aged 18, was rearrested today after speaking to a local human rights organization. During previous interrogations, Oun said he was raped by a security officer.

That officer allegedly later called Oun after his release and threatened to rearrest him and rape him until he died. According to Maryam Al Khawaja of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, Oun was recently arrested again in what she said was revenge against him for speaking to their center.

Every indication points away from the Royal Family’s willingness to engage in discussions of reform and reverse the variety of heinous human rights abuses committed by the country’s security apparatus.

For most democracies in the international community, the King’s double-dealing has triggered a profound sense of disappointment and betrayal. Hopes soared high when the King, in a first-of-a-kind move in the Middle East, commissioned and accepted a genuinely independent report prepared under the leadership of a distinguished judge from Egypt. That report found that Bahrain was guilty of unacceptable human rights violations, including widespread torture in detention.

The King urged dialogue. But that word is not being heard much these days. It seems obvious that His Highness is attempting to sandbag the world, stalling for time.

Meantime, little is being heard from the US, where President Obama finds himself between a rock and a hard place. Bahrain is of strategic importance to American interests, as it is not only a supplier of oil, but host to the US Fifth Fleet.

Bahrain has hired a small army of PR people in the US and the UK to promote the notion that the “unrest” is over. No need to worry about it anymore. These communications gurus also want to see the Bahrain Grand Prix, the Kingdom’s Formula One racing event, rescheduled. It was cancelled earlier because of the violence in the country.

But now, there is an opportunity for the folks who supervise Formula One to show the world that the unrest was never over and is far from being over now. Just last week, two children died from inhaling tear gas fired at them by the security forces.

Formula One can honor these children and demonstrate that there are things more important than money. Helping to ensure the basic rights of a people is surely one of those things. And if Bahrain really values Formula One for its tourism and economic development, that gives the organizers enormous leverage.

We need to urge them to use it.

William Fisher has managed economic development programs for the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development in the Middle East, North Africa, Latin America, Asia and elsewhere for the past 25 years. He has supervised major multi-year projects for AID in Egypt, where he lived and worked for three years. He returned later with his team to design Egypt’s agricultural strategy. Fisher served in the international affairs area in the administration of President John F. Kennedy. He began his working life as a reporter and bureau chief for the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Associated Press in Florida. He now reports on a wide-range of issues for a number of online journals.

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12 Responses for “The Royal Stall”

  1. Angela T says:

    Claiming that all human rights organisations have been barred from visiting bahrain is just not true. I’m not sure of the details in this particular case, but I do know that the Red Cross has been granted access to Bahraini prisons to visit detainees. A pretty big step.

  2. Richard K says:

    Saying the King is no longer interested in dialogue is absolutely not true. What this piece leaves out is the King’s recent speech in which he proposed constitutional reforms that would give additional powers to parliament.

  3. Richard K should know that there have been endless speeches by the King and his crew, but zero action. And, Angela T, I didn’t write that all human rights workers were barred from entrty. I know of two and I wrote about them. As for ther Red Cross, that’s hardly a big step. It’s their right under a UN treaty. And much too long delayed.

  4. Mounther says:

    There is no real reforms in Bahrain, goverment become more brutal lately, the peacful demonstrations are now out of control, so don’t blame people. we will not have constitutional elected goverment because of this reforms he cameout with.

  5. proud_bh says:

    The regime denies the entry of some Human Rights orgs. because they want to continue their crimes against Bahraini people with the support of media silence!
    I think Angela T & Richard K seems to be one of those PR employed by Alkhalifa regime

  6. abo hashim says:

    The regime denies entry NGOs and will accept rhose who will agrees with it, in an attempt to cover what is going to happen during february, i think more human rights voilations are going to occur, we need help before it os too late

  7. Spencer Haskins says:

    HR groups are NOT being allowed into Bahrain as per the BICI recommendations. The Red Cross is a medical and humanitarian aid organization, NOT a rigorous Human Rights organization. The supposed ‘Constitutional reforms’ of the ‘king’ are far short of what is asked for by the opposition and short of what is recommended by BICI. These reforms leave all power in the hands of the Al-Khalifas, continue with the gerrymandered districting that robs Shia of their power in numbers, and continues to foster the familial robbing of the Bahraini nation through corruption, land grabs, and selective employment opportunity. The state in Bahrain is one of institutionalized Governmental persecution of sectors of the citizenry based upon sectarian differences. There has been NO Al-Khalifa reform of this Regime or its HR abuses of CS gassing the Shia to death in their sleep, the illegal detainments and bogus prosecutions, and torture of political dissidents.

  8. Osama Alaradi says:

    Whoever thinks Hamad did anything towards reforms is mistaken. His latest speech did not address any of the demands by the opposition. He meets with his crew and followers and speak for local consumption and media coverage only but come to reality all opposition socieities are still protesting daily for their just demands of elected parliment with full power and no Shura Council that paralyzes the parliment and make it meaningless in addition to elected government. Two months passed after BICI committee report and none of the recommendations acheived.

  9. Dr Qasim Omran says:

    Those who are familiar with the political tactics of the regime would realise that these “Royal Stalling” is not something new for this regime. It may present itself in different formats but are reflecting one core objective of deceiving the world community and diverting its attention away from the regime’s crimes.

    Not only this but to go further to impress the world by steps like forming BICI to avoid a truly independent international committee by UN while at same time having a full control over its recommendations that would not be implemented as no independent body to monitor its implementation. So BICI is only another PR move by the King to get the appraisal of international community on launching it two months ago, and after that world forget about it, as someone opposition figured have described this royal stalling.

    The Regimes spends millions of US$ every month on the PR corporates to beautify its image internationally, and so no wonder that all those citizens in different categories who communicated with their professional societies, with international media or with human rights organizations have been targeted by harassment, arrest, torture, or accusing them with false charges, and even exterminating them in detention cells or on the streets of Bahrain.

    The refusal to allow Dooley Brian, Richard Sollom and the representative of the Freedom House entry to Bahrain stem from the fear of regime that these may disclose the regime deception. On the contrary, those who are ready to mask the truth in Bahrain and to beautify the ugly deeds of regime are most welcome with free unrestricted access to Bahrain

  10. linda says:

    This is an excellent article, thank you. The RedCross have not been in since King signed saying they could go in (which he didn’t need to do as they have that right). Three HR workers have been banned, the latest was a team of a few people from Freedom House. Richard Sollom was not allowed in earlier; I’ve just this minute been tweeting with him. The Gov are NOT allowing any HR worker in at the moment. I have seen the letter sent to Freedom House telling them they are not welcome at the moment.

  11. Al-Ghasra says:

    Down down hamad
    Our king is killer

  12. Ali mohammed says:

    The Government of Bahrain has played it right this time. When arrests take place, severe torture is inflicted on the victim, sometimes for several hours in a nearby farms or a government building, the victim is then thrown in a deserted area and will be lucky if he can make it home.

    There are. O serious steps after the BICI report which show that reforms are taking place.

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