Bahrain Escalates Attacks on Civil Society
Prominent members of civil society groups in Bahrain continue to be targets of harassment and abuse as the regime shows little sign of delivering human rights reforms.
This week, leading journalist Reem Khalifa was apparently targeted by the security forces. An activist told Human Rights First that on June 29 three Bahraini police cars stopped suddenly, positively identified her, and threw a stun grenade directly at her. Last year she received death threats because of her reporting.
Khalifa is an independent journalist who writes for the Associated Press and for Bahrain’s only independent daily newspaper, Al- Wasat. She’s one of the region’s best-known reporters, and her accounts of the protests and the government crackdown have helped keep the crisis in Bahrain on the international agenda since the peaceful protests began in February 2011.
“She was very close to getting hurt. The incident happened near the Al Wasat building,” recounted a witness. “There were clashes on Budaiya highway between men and women trying to assemble and riot police, who were preventing them by firing tear gas and stun grenades. She was standing near a colleague far back from the protesters and talking on the phone. The policeman who stepped out of his car was Bahraini and he looked at her directly – he seemed to recognize her and then threw a stun grenade at her while other police fired tear gas in another direction. She ran away with some others.”
It’s become increasingly difficult for journalists to report on the situation in Bahrain. The government severely restricts international media form entering the country, and the Associated Press is now the only international news agency in the country.
The harassment of critics is not limited to journalists. Last week a small group of men, including Ali Salman of the opposition Wifaq political society, was attacked by riot police. A video shows riot police attacking apparently unarmed protestors at close range using a variety of weapons. Injuries include a skull fracture. In another incident, prominent human rights defender Zainab Al Khawaja was hit on the leg by a tear gas canister fired at close range.
The regime is also determined to prevent independent reporting by international human rights observers. Human Rights First was denied permission to enter Bahrain last week.