Some mainstream media are suggesting that the Bahraini version of The Arab Spring is over. Crushed was the word used by one of the mainstream US newspapers.
But the Sunni King of the tiny oil-rich country, Hamad-Bin-Isa-Al-Khalifa, says the independent report he commissioned is being implemented. The report concluded that peaceful demonstrators were being attacked by soldiers, arbitrarily arrested, taken to prison and tortured. The King has, unexplainably, accepted the report’s findings and promised to work with the people on long-overdue reforms. He is seeking patience from his majority Shia subjects.
But these subjects – at least what appears to be a substantial proportion of them – have run out of patience. They have been shot at, killed and wounded, arrested and tortured since March. They have no faith in the King’s reforms. They think he’s stalling to buy time. They are telling a very different story.
Their story is about peaceful demonstrations being broken up by security forces with live fire in addition to tear gas, batons and water canon. Their story is about continuing middle-of-the night home invasions by security men, threatening whole families, arresting the men, and taking them away to an uncertain future. Their story is about sick people in jail not getting adequate medical attention and prisoners being routinely tortured. Their story is about thousands of teachers, doctors and nurses being fired from their jobs. Their story is about thousands of students expelled from the university.
These Bahrainis will be satisfied with nothing less than the abdication of the King, the removal of his family from the most senior government posts, a new constitution and an election to create a parliamentary democracy. The King has won no trust from this group. Their mantra here, as it was for Mubarak in Tahrir Square in Egypt, is: The King Must Go!
There are other Bahrainis, however, who appear willing to attempt to participate in a dialogue with the Royals to determine for themselves whether His Majesty is serious about real reforms. But thus far, there has been virtually no action taken by the Government to begin creating any sort of dialogue.
So while the Royal family and its government remain unified and determined, a small divide has opened among two factions of protestors. How this will play out over time is unclear. But time appears to be on the side of the King, in whose name security forces, backed by the presence of troops from Saudi Arabia, appear prepared to continue their brutal crackdowns on dissidents.
That became clear this weekend.
Saudi-backed regime troops attacked anti-government protesters demanding an end to the rule of the Al Khalifa family in the eastern Bahraini town of Toobli. Clashes between protesters and government forces have also been reported in a number of other villages and towns across the Persian Gulf sheikdom. The troops used tear gas to disperse the protesters. Several protesters have so far been killed and hundreds injured.
Following is a lightly edited report from the spokesperson for the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Maryam Al-Khawaja. She is believed to be in London. Her father, her sister and her sister’s husband and their two-year old son, are currently in prison in Bahrain.
Death of three civilians:
23 Nov 2011, Abdul Nabi Kadhem (44), fatally wounded when his car was intentionally hit by fast-moving police vehicle, forcing him to collide with a standing wall of a building. This was the morning of the ceremony for the release of the report.
7 Dec 2011, Zahra Saleh, (27), was hit with metal rod in head on 18 Nov. The government insists that the protesters were the ones who hit her and that she had turned to the security forces for protection. My colleague went to the hospital, as well as a member of AlWefaq party, to try to speak to Zahra; both of them were stopped, questioned then turned away by Ministry of Interior employees. Also, in Bahrain, it is highly unlikely for anyone to turn to police for protection, especially someone who was supporting the protest movement as was seen on her facebook page.
11th Dec 2011, Sajida Faisal (5 days old) dies from teargas suffocation, according to her parents:
Attacks on all-types gatherings:
– Mourners have been attacked in Aali.
– Religious processions were attacked in Muharraq by the security forces, then by the thugs.
– Ministry of Interior yesterday prevented an “authorized” sit-in by sacked workers in front of the civil service bureau, and dispersed the crowds by force.
– Protests, small or large, continue to be attacked in the same way. Security forces continue to shoot excessive amounts of teargas on residential areas as collective punishment. Teargas used is made in USA, France and Brazil.
Injuries showed the continued use of: Shotgun, teargas and rubber bullets. Tonight there were heavy attacks on protesters in several villages, this came after a huge protest earlier in the day in front of the United Nations building due to a visit by OHCHR staff to the country.
Prrotesters have planned to set up a similar “Pearl square gathering” with tents but along the Budaiya Highway. The organizers have urged people not to block the roads, and to remain peaceful at all times.
It is important to note that despite the many injuries we saw today (including pellets in eyes), protesters are still not able to seek medical attention at the hospital as it continues to be under the control of the army, and instead have to attempt to treat themselves at home.
· Arrest continued following the daily protests. Arrested people not necessary protesters. Many are children under 18.
· We have received a number of cases from families that their detained relatives are still being subjected to torture.
· Religious places…attacked with teargas canisters in two occasions, in Aali during mourning of AbdulNabi, and later after attacking a religious procession in Muharraq.
· Several journalists (including columnist Nicholas Kristoff) have faced harassment including brief detention and being tear gassed (EPA/DPA, Reuters, NYTimes, Washington post)
· Trials continued of teachers, doctors and others. Three athletes were sentenced up to 1 year. (It’s not clear if these are included in the recent pardon for athletes). Human Rights Watch observer was banned from entry to court. Teachers trial adjourned to the 19th. Mustafa AlMoamen, brother of Ali AlMoamen who was killed on 17th February, was sentenced to 2 years imprisonment today for illegal gathering and inciting hatred against the regime, not first case where brother of someone killed is imprisoned. The judge is a member of the royal family. Trials of doctors postponed until January 9th. Continuation with case against 28 doctors charged with misdemeanors, adding charge of possession of white weapons. Case against 139 people for illegal assembly postponed until March.
· New batch of government employees including teachers has been suspended from work for up to 10 days (no salary). New sacking happened at ministry of Justice (Minster is a member of the formed committee to follow up BICI recommendations). News in papers yesterday of reinstatement of 480 sacked workers not true as my colleague met with the health workers who stated that no one had been returned to work.
· The case of dismissed workers can be example of how the king is not obliged to BICI recommendations. On 1 July Bassiouni (head of the Commission) told the media “King PROMISED me to return those dismissed for expressing their opinions” and the govt issued PR releases saying “PM gave the private sector 10 days to reinstate wrongfully sacked employees“, however thousands still sacked.
· Attempt to hinder and hijack civil society associations: the recent dismiss of the legitimate elected board of the Bahrain Bar Society:
· Conditions at central prison,“Jaw”, has become even worsen after the publication of report. Less hours outside cell, restrictions on excercize of religious rituals, no hot water for showers, families not allowed to bring winter clothes, despite number of detainees suffering from Sickle Cell Anemia and other health problems.
· Hunger strike started at cell 7 in the Dry Docks prison, and the Central police station against arbitrary arrest, torture and demanding their release. Two of the detainees who were taken to court today fainted as they are entering their 5th day or hunger strike. When the trial hearing adjourned, detainees Sayed Ahmed Neama, Mohamed Saleh and Abdullah Maki were beaten by the police in front of the lawyers.
· Violence inciting increased online by the pro-gov, some with real names like the ex-colonial Adel Falifel, sending threats directly to Human Rights defenders while no action taken against him (this is a country which arrested people for their pro-democracy online posts). Adel Fulaifal is a known torturer from the 90’s and the reason he was not held accountable is because of Decree 56 which was issued by King Hamad granting amnesty to all those guilty of crimes of torture during the 90’s. Many still hold positions in government.
· The National Commission said its priorities are the dismissed workers and students, and the religious places, which are indeed priority, but how come the martyrs and detainees are not on the very top priority list?
· It seems the PM is now publicly inciting against the pro-democracy protesters (Arabic):
Government Actions since the report:
· Interview with the King yesterday, in which he “denied systematic rights abuses during the handling of protests earlier this year” and insisted some protesters were being trained in Syria.
· Labyrinth of follow-up committees:
- National Commission: 18 members appointed by the king, mostly members of the Shura council, human rights activist (Abdullah AlDurazi), minister of justice, others. After their first meeting they have been divided into new 3 sub- committees to deal with legislative issues, judicial issues and national reconciliation. Two members of Alwefaq were invited by they have rejected the invitation.
- Following their first meeting the commission announced that “All proposals brought forward for discussion will be approved by consensus”.
Government work group: formed by the PM as per the king order. They have to study the BICI report and to cooperate with the National Committees to implement the recommendations.
· Reform to MOI:
o Appointment of John Timoney, the former Miami Police Chief known for brutality and Former Metropolitan police Chief John Yates known for a phone hacking scandal.
o Bahrain’s head of public security Tariq bin Dinah was dismissed then appointed security adviser.
o Minister said there would be cooperation with international organizations to develop a curricula to train ministry personnel. This will lead to the drafting of a code of conduct for the police force. He confirmed the commencement of a study to draft legislations that would guarantee visual and audio recording for all official questioning of detainees.
o The Prime Minister today participated in the Ministry of Interior’s celebration of the “policeman day”.
· Authorities in Bahrain say prosecutors have charged 20 members of the security forces for alleged abuse of protesters they are responsible for “instances of excessive force and mistreatment of detainees”.
· Royal pardon to 100 athletes, not unconditional release with dropping of all charges. No other releases, not even those mentioned in the tortured cases.
· National Security Head Sheikh Khalifa bin Abdullah Al-Khalifa promoted to General Secretary of the Supreme Council of Defence and the king’s advisor with Minster rank.
· A new head (Adel bin Khalifa Hamad Al Fadhel) was appointed for the National Security Apparatus. Its responsibilities have been amended so that the NSA has no right to arrest suspects, while its duties are limited to collecting intelligence information, and detecting and uncovering detrimental activities relating to spying, and collaboration with foreign countries and terror in order to safeguard national security, institutions and systems. The NSA shall refer to the Interior Ministry all cases requiring arrests.
[We have called for the dissolution of the National Security Apparatus and the Special Security Apparatus and the return of their jurisdictions to the regular security apparatuses; ]
· Government announced that the Red Cross allowed access to the prisons. This might be the only real step, but if these visits actually start now and not after two years [we are calling on Bahrain to sign the Optional Protocol against Torture, which involved that there will be a standing committee to visit the prisons any time and that the visits could be sudden]
· The Interior Minister issued an order to the public prosecutor to investigate all deaths and torture cases implicating the police. Both the Minister of Interior and the public prosecutor should be investigated and tried for violations against human rights. End of Report.
Unlike many other nations involved in versions of the Arab Spring, Bahrain pays careful attention to the positions taken by the U.S. Government. Bahrain has a strategic importance to the US because it is the home of the US Fifth Fleet.
Thus far, the US has spoken out against the brutality involved in the pro-democracy demonstrations, but has not taken sides. It finds itself eager not to anger the Saudis, who provided troops to Bahrain some months ago at the request of the King. The Saudis were unhappy with the speed at which it says President Obama threw Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak under the bus.
The US is also interested in minimizing the influence of Iran among Bahraini Shia, who make up a majority of the subjects of the Sunni King. The US applauded the King’s appointment of an independent fact-finding commission headed by a well-known international jurist, and has urged the King to lose no time creating a structure for constructive dialogue.
But a one-party dialogue is a monologue. And just how Bahrain will reach a point of dialogue is unclear when peaceful protesters continue to fill the streets and the security forces continue to kill, injure and imprison them.
Wlliam 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.