US Stays Silent as Bahraini Human Rights Defenders are Targeted
In Bahrain, the sudden excitement of democracy rallies have been replaced with the cold reality of repression as the government cracks down on pro-democracy protestors and activists. This week, I went to an event in Washington D.C. where the Bahraini Minister for Finance, Shaikh Ahmed bin Mohamed Al-Khalifa, gave a speech about the great economic strides made by his country. I asked him why they were detaining and torturing people, and why there were four deaths in police custody this month alone.
Predictably (if both tragically and comically) he said no-one in Bahrain had been detained because of their peaceful opinions, that “the days of us trying to control the media are behind us,” and that “the silent majority” is with the government.
The U.S. Government appears happy to be part of that silence. The Bahraini minister was no doubt delighted by the State Department’s announcement on Monday that “the U.S. supports the Bahraini leadership’s own embrace of the principles of reform and the respect for rule of law and coexistence.” Nothing about widespread torture, nothing about the estimated 600 plus people in detention, nothing about medical and legal professionals being targeted for supporting the pro-democracy activists.
Earlier this month, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, former head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, was dragged from his home in the middle of the night, beaten unconscious, and taken away. His family heard that he would be tried today but when they went to the courthouse they weren’t allowed in, not even Abdulhadi’s lawyers. No-one would confirm he was inside.
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A few weeks ago, I called Abdulhadi just after he’d been shot for taking part in a pro-democracy protest. He wasn’t badly hurt and sounded upbeat, but concerned about those who were more seriously injured but were being denied medical treatment by the authorities. But when he called his family from detention a couple of days ago, they said his voice was very weak and that he sounded very tired. His family asked how he was doing and he answered, “the oppression is great.” They believe he’s been tortured.
This week, I met with one of Abdulhadi’s daughters, Maryam Al-Khawaja, who spoke about her father’s violent and illegal detention. We also spoke about her sister, Zeinab Al Khawaja, who had been engaged in a ten-day hunger strike in protest of her father’s treatment. In this video, Zeinab explains her decision.
Zeinab’s health had deteriorated since she started her hunger strike, and, in the past few days, she was not able to speak or move. Yesterday, after human rights activists in Bahrain and outside told her that her voice was needed in the struggle for human rights, she ended her hunger strike. Human Rights First is committed to bring justice to those illegally detained and abused and we will continue to work on Adbulhadi’s case and the others. We will keep you updated on this ongoing situation.