Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Bahrain Update

February 14, 2012 marked the one year anniversary of the beginning of the Arab Spring protests in Bahrain. That was the approximate date that large scale protests against the Al Khalifa monarchy in Bahrain resumed after a period of relative calm. Tens of thousands of Bahraini activists rallied in Bahrain on March 9, 2012 in one of their largest protests so far.

The government of Bahrain denied human rights organizations and journalists entry into the country prior to the one year anniversary of the start of the revolution. Human Rights First and Freedom House were both denied access to the country. Journalists from Al Jazeera, the New York Times, Agence France Presse, the Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, and Channel Four have also been denied entry into the country. The Bahraini Information Affairs Authority stated that the BBC, Financial Times, Reuters, and Associated Press have been granted access to the country.

The Bahraini government has also hired western Public Relations agencies to clean up its image abroad. These PR agencies include Potomac Square Group, Sorini Samet & Associates, Qorvis, Joe Trippi & Associates, Sanitas International, Bell Pottinger, Gardant Communications, BCB Group, Olton, TS Navigations LLC, and Dragon Associates. In contrast to Bahrain, Western PR firms by and large ended their relationships with the governments of Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya during their revolutions.

In February, Bahrain deported 12 international human rights observers that were part of the Witness Bahrain project. Witness Bahrain sent the observers to document police mistreatment of protesters and to support Bahraini democracy activists. They also hoped that their presence would reduce the violence of the government’s response. On February 13, Amy Goodman interviewed two Witness Bahrain activists on Democracy Now!

Doctor Nada Dhaif, a mother and pro-democracy activist, was tortured with electrocution in 2011. Dhaif told Al Jazeera, “They did that for nothing. I wasn’t even asked—they didn’t even ask me a question.” She was sentenced to 15 years in prison for plotting to overthrow the state. Currently out on bail and awaiting an appeal, she has been sending letters to the king and government officials asking them to overturn her conviction.

Abdulhadi al-Khawaja is the co-founder and former president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the founder for the Gulf Center for Human Rights. He was arrested by Bahraini police in April. His family says that he was arrested in the middle of the night and beaten. In June, al-Khawaja was sentenced to life in prison by a military court for “organizing and managing a terrorist group.” Said Boumedouha, a researcher at Amnesty International, told Al Jazeera that the government of Bahrain did not produce any evidence that al-Khawaja used or advocated violence.

On February 8, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja went on hunger strike to protest his detention and the detention of other activists. He is a diabetic and as a result of his hunger strike is now unable to sit up for very long. 45 Human rights organizations have signed a letter to the king of Bahrain asking for al-Khawaja’s release. His daughter Zainab al-Khawaja told the CBC that her father had declared that this hunger strike was, “for freedom or death.”

Abdulhadi al-Khawaja is currently on day 32 of his hunger strike.

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