Bahraini Protests on Life Support

As Saudi-backed Bahraini authorities prepared to carry out death sentences against four anti-government protesters for the murder of two security officers, forces loyal to King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa continued their campaign of arresting physicians and nurses to make it impossible for them to see and treat wounds allegedly inflicted by government gunmen.

Twenty-three doctors and 24 nurses were arrested yesterday and charged with a laundry list of crimes including, embezzlement of public funds, physical assault on civilians, assault leading to death, possession of unlicensed weapons and ammunition, failure to carry out their employment duties, in aims of hindering medical work, consequently endangering people’s health and lives, attempting to forcefully occupying a public building, efforts to bring down and change the regime by illegal means,
inciting hatred against the governing regime, promoting sectarian hate, spreading false news and rumors that harm public interest, and participating in unlicensed protests and rallies.

The arrests included Dr. Ahmed Jamal, president of the Bahrain Medical Society.

The U.S.-based advocacy group, Human Rights Watch, called Monday on Bahraini authorities to put off military court death sentences and life imprisonment of Shiites over the alleged killing of two security men.

“Bahraini authorities should set aside a military court ruling on April 28, 2011, sentencing four defendants to death and three others to life in prison for their alleged involvement in the murder of two police officers,” the human rights group said.

It said that the trial of the seven defendants, aged between 19 and 24, lasted less than two weeks, while they were the first civilians to be convicted in special military courts set after the crackdown in March on Shiite-led protests demanding democratic reforms.

“By establishing these special courts, the government of Bahrain is making it near impossible for defendants to enjoy the rights to which they are entitled,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director for Human Rights Watch.

“The role of the military prosecutor, the makeup of the special court, and the meager access to legal representation undermine the most basic due process protections,” he added.

According to authorities, four police were killed in March after being struck by cars during the protests in the kingdom, which is ruled by the Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty.

Amnesty International last week urged Bahrain to block the executions.

“Those sentenced have no right of appeal except to another special military court, raising great fears about the fairness of the entire process,” Amnesty International said.

Authorities charged the defendants with premeditated murder under Bahrain’s 1976 Penal Code and the 2006 counterterrorism law, which mandates the death penalty for certain crimes, including murder, when designated a terrorist crime, Human Rights Watch said.

Bahrain had declared a “state of national safety,” a lower degree of emergency, on March 16, a day before security forces crushed the month-long Shiite-led demonstration.

Bahraini authorities have said 24 people were killed during the unrest, most of them demonstrators. Last week, a Bahraini official said 405 detainees had been referred to military courts while 312 have been released.

“Sixty-two criminal cases and 343 misdemeanor cases have been referred to the courts of national safety,” said the head of the Information Affairs Authority, Sheikh Fawaz bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa.

In other developments, Maryam Al-Khawaja, Head of the Foreign Relations Office for the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, said Bahraini authorities have arrested two former members of Parliament from Al Wefaq political party: Matar Matar and Jawad Fairouz. MP Jawad Fairuz is known for highlighting government corruption and unfair distribution of lands as he attempted to bring the case to parliament. Matar Matar has been documenting violations and cases of disappearances and arrests.

His interview with the BBC can be found here.

The Bahraini authorities are reportedly harassing and intimidating members of the press. An article entitled “The Murder of Free Speech and the Siege of Freedom” on the website of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights claims that “More than 68 journalists have been subjected to lay-off, arrest and threats because of their work.”

Since the 14th of February 2011, he article charges, “Bahrain has seen a political movement demanding freedom, democracy, and the revival of communal partnership in the framework of the civil movements seeking freedom which are currently overrunning Arab countries.

“This was followed by brutal security crackdowns and the entry of the Peninsula Shield forces (Military units of 6 Gulf countries) into Bahrain.

“Journalists engaged in this event with daily coverage through both their jobs at local newspapers, through their announcements on satellite television stations, by writing to Arabic newspapers in the framework of their presence at the site of action, and via effective action through online social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter.

“Because of that, journalists have been subjected to a campaign of lay-offs and collective arrests affecting more than 68 journalists, while many have received different threats originating from the Bahraini authorities, its associated organizations, and affiliated parties. The online activist Zakariya Al Aushayri has been killed in detention and Reporters without Borders has released an official statement demanding an investigation into the incident, indeed the reporters Faisal Hayyat, Hayder Mohammad, Ali Jawad, and other bloggers and e-activist have been arrested. Warrants have been issued for others as well, causing some to leave Bahrain, in fear of their personal safety.

“Bahrain is currently considered a dangerous zone for the freedom of press and journalists. Bahraini journalists are hoping for a helping hand and for the adoption of measures to insure their safety. We firmly believe that any journalist arrested by the Bahraini government could die in view of the current security laws (the emergency law) implemented in the country, the severity of the situation, and the arbitrary procedures that the country has seen on multiple levels that go up against the international commitments concerning human rights; especially with the rise in the number of people killed in Bahraini interrogation centers to 4, asides from the 35 dead during the demonstrations so far, all in a country with a population that does not exceed 570 thousand people.”

In other developments, Abdulhadi Alkhawaja’s wife, Khadija AlMousawi was fired from her job on Sunday 2nd May. AlMousawi was Head of Guidance and Administrative Manager at Abdulrahman Kanoo International School where she has worked for the past 10 years. According to family members, AlMousawi was informed that the order for her layoff came from the Ministry of Interior. Five other employees at the same school were also fired.

Shaikh Mohammed Habib AlMuqdad (Swedish citizen) called his family yesterday asking for clothes. This is the first time his family knew that he was being held by the authorities. AlMuqdad was recently released from prison (late February) after being accused of being part of a terrorist cell. After his release AlMuqdad spoke about the torture that he had been subjected to and showed marks left on his body due to electric shocks and other types of torture.

Another Swedish citizen, Khalil AlHalwachi, has gone missing after his daughter found their home vandalized (pictures attached)

In a related development, Forbes Magazine is reporting that a major U.S.-based labor group is asking Washington to suspend a free trade pact with Bahrain in response to the Gulf nation’s crackdown that includes purging union leaders accused of supporting pro-reform protests.

A senior official for the AFL-CIO says the petition urges American trade officials to halt the special accord that waives tariffs on industrial and consumer products. Bahrain is a key U.S. ally and home to the Navy’s 5th Fleet.

Jeff Vogt, an AFL-CIO official, said on Monday that it’s the first time the group has sought to halt a trade pact because of political pressures.

Ever since Saudi Arabian soldiers and UAE police rolled into Bahrain across the 26 km. Causeway separating the two countries, increasing numbers of observers have been writing the obituary of Bahrain’s version of The Arab Spring.

The consensus seems to be that Saudi power and influence would quickly blow the winds of change out to sea. And the effect of Saudi power is not difficult to find; the U.S. Administration has been handling clashes between Bahraini security forces (the Sunni minority) and anti-government demonstrators (mostly the Shia majority) as a super Third Rail. The U.S. wants to avoid irritating the Saudis, who are strategically important for obvious reasons. The Saudis want to avoid the possibility that the oil-producing Eastern part of Bahrain, a heavily Shia area, will make common cause with a neighboring oil-producing province of Saudi Arabia, which is home to a sizable Shia population.

The Saudi and UAE forces in Bahrain are under the auspices of the Gulf Cooperation Council. The GCC would like the troubles in Bahrain to simply go away, because many of the countries in the Council are near carbon copies of Bahrain.

In the early days of the anti-government protests, the King toyed with the idea of offering some concessions to the dissidents. But these, as in most roiled-up Middle Eastern states, have apparently come too little to late. So the royal family has adopted a hard and unforgiving line against the protesters.

The government seems prepared to arrest them all!

Tom Friedman of The New York Times put the predicament quite succinctly. He wrote, “…Saudi Arabia, which is 90 percent Sunni and 10 percent Shiite, has made clear that it will oppose any evolution to constitutional monarchy in neighboring Bahrain, where a Sunni minority rules over a Shiite majority. Saudi Arabia has no tradition of pluralism. When we say “democratic reform” to Saudi Arabia or Bahrain, we might as well be speaking Latin. What their rulers hear is ‘Shiites taking over from Sunnis.’ Not gonna happen peacefully.”