Crackdowns, Torture and Intimidation in Bahrain

Crackdowns, Torture and Intimidation in Bahrain – by Stephen Lendman

Largely ignored by Washington, Western governments, and America’s media, the ruling Al Khalifa monarchy continues cracking down brutally against nonviolent protesters since civil resistance began last February.

On July 14, UK Telegraph writer Richard Spencer headlined, “Bahraini woman poet tells of torture while in custody,” saying:

Incarcerated after reciting a poem critical of government policies, “Ayat al-Qurmezi (age 20) became one of the symbols of the (ongoing) protests….After she was arrested….she was beaten, electro(shocked) and threatened with sexual assault while in custody.”

On July 11, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) headlined, “Teachers ordeal in Bahrain: arrested, tortured, sacked, suspended and prosecuted,” saying:

Teachers and Bahrain Teachers Association (BTA) members participated in protest demonstrations, demanding respect for human rights and democratic change. As a result, they faced “arbitrary arrests, military prosecution, torture, suspensions, salary cuts, and investigation.”

BTA board members were arrested, held incommunicado with no access to family or lawyers. A month later, some were released. Others are still detained, including BTA President Mahdi Abu Deeb, charged with:

“deliver(ing) speeches haranguing and instigat(ing) protesters and inciting them against the political regime, flouting the real voluntary and lofty goals of the association.”

On June 6, Deeb and BTA Vice President Jaleela Al Salman were tried in military court charged with:

“inciting others to commit crimes, calling for the hatred and overthrow of the ruling system, holding pamphlets, disseminating fabricated stories and information, leaving work on purpose and encouraging others to do so and taking part at illegal practices.”

So far, at least 66 teachers were arrested. In addition, riot police repeatedly targeted 15 or more girls’ schools. Teachers and students were arbitrarily arrested, detained, and “physically abused.”

Other schools were also attacked. Many teachers were arrested, interrogated, intimidated, abused, charged with going on strike, participating in peaceful protests, and inciting anti-regime sentiment.

In custody, they were beaten and tortured. One female teacher said:

“Around 10 policewomen were asking me and beating me at the same time. Then they handcuffed me and kept beating me on the head and back while kicking me and stepping on my feet.”

Others were threatened with rape and beaten. A woman who had major back surgery was repeatedly kicked there after explaining her medical condition.

Many faced secretive military trials and convicted. More trials are expected. Many others were arbitrarily suspended from positions or sacked. More remain under investigation. Intimidation throughout Bahrain is pervasive.

On June 14, Human Rights Watch headlined, “Bahrain: Stop Military Court Travesty of Justice,” saying:

HRW called for ending military tribunal injustice, and “free(ing) everyone (including opposition politicians, medical professionals, students, teachers, journalists, and human rights activists) held solely for exercising their rights to free speech and peaceful assembly.”

HRW’s Middle East director Joe Stork said:

“Most defendants hauled before Bahrain’s special military court are facing blatantly political charges and (unfair) trials.”

Human Rights First (HRF) on Bahrain

On July 14, a HRF press release headlined, “NEW REPORT: Despite National Dialogue Crackdown Continues in Bahrain,” saying:

The Bahraini government “continues to intimidate, torture, and detain human rights defenders, and shoot at civilians.” According to HRF’s Brian Dooley:

“Human rights defenders with whom we spoke are wary that the dialogue is (nothing) more than elaborate play-acting for the international community’s benefit.”

The report titled, “Bahrain: A Tortuous Process” presented findings based on a July 6 – 12 fact-finding mission. It included interviews with human rights defenders, other activists, victims and their families, dozens of recently released detainees, journalists, medical professionals, students, and Bahraini government officials.

In addition, HRF personnel “witnessed riot police firing on unarmed women without warning with a variety of weapons.”

Nonetheless, peaceful marches and protests continue, despite security force attacks, using sound bombs, tear gas, rubber bullets, and live fire.

Human rights defenders are prime targets, facing arrests, detentions, torture, and illegitimate trials. In fact, (on June 21) prominent activist Abdulhadi Al Khawaja received life in prison in one of many show trials.

Others like him express views anonymously, fearing reprisals if go public. They also assume their phones are tapped and goings monitored. A Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights member said:

“We live under the constant fear of arrest. They can come at any time for us.”

Another activist said homes and other facilities are regularly raided, adding:

“I still wake up scared. I have clothes ready, next to the bed. I get up sometimes in the middle of the night and look out the window if I hear a noise, thinking it’s them again. It’s a permanent fear that they could come at any time, day or night.”

Human rights defenders complained about Washington’s double standard, muting its regime criticism, stressing Bahrain’s an important regional partner, ally, and home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet.

Disingenuously on July 2, Obama welcomed Bahrain’s National Dialogue, calling it “an important moment of promise….The United States commends King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa for his leadership in initiating the dialogue.”

In contrast, one participant told HRF:

“There are four halls, each having between 50 to 80 participants” allowed five minutes to speak. “The session ends while some still have not talked. Nothing is known about how all these chaotically dispersed talks will end up….” King Hamad has final say.

“You have it all predetermined and the final document has already been decided. These meetings are nothing more than a camouflage. It is a joke to call it a dialogue to start with.”

Based on numerous interviews, HRF reported “credible, consistent accounts of torture,” other forms of abuse and humiliation, including detainees forced to kiss photos of the king, belly dance, make animal noises, and sign confessions.

One former detainee said he was blindfolded for weeks, forced to stand for hours, wasn’t allowed to wash or pray, and was even beaten when permitted to use the toilet. Others had similar horror stories. Injured detainees were also abused, including on their wounds. Intimidation, humiliation, and forced confessions are routine.

On July 6, HRF’s Brian Dooley witnessed riot police attacking peaceful pedestrians, saying:

“People were standing in doorways, chatting….It was a calm, chatty atmosphere….(S)uddenly riot police (with) shields appeared behind us.” With no warning, they opened fire, using “sound bombs, tear gas canisters, and rubber bullets.”

People started screaming. Some were struck, including by shrapnel. “I could see people ahead of us running, panicking. The police kept on firing at us….We were not part of a rally, or even near (one). There were a few dozen people spread out along the length of the street in small groups like ours, and the police just appeared and attacked us.”

Others told HRF similar stories, police firing on unarmed, peaceful civilians without warning. People not in detention face harassment. No one feels safe. Abuses continue regularly.

Protected by Washington, Bahrain is a lawless police state, targeting anyone seen challenging regime authority and many others for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Nonetheless, peaceful protests continue, despite punitive reprisals, including arrests, detentions, torture, show trials, and imprisonment. Nary a word from Washington complains.

A Final Comment

A new Zogby International Arab American Institute poll shows unfavorable attitudes about America. In fact, Obama’s 10% or lower approval rating surpasses Bush’s lowest level. In fact, he scores worst on Palestine and engagement with the Muslim world.

In five of six countries surveyed, Washington scored lower than Turkey, China, France or Iran. Specifically, “US interference in the Arab world” is called the greatest obstacle to regional peace and stability after Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

Libya perhaps was one war too many. Waging it increased negative perceptions about America and Obama.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at

Also visit his blog site at and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

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