The island kingdom of Bahrain is a US ally and houses the US Navy’s 5th Fleet; this military partnership is one reason the US has not offered harsher criticism of Bahrain’s crackdown on protesters. In February, pro-democratic protesters, inspired by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, occupied the Pearl Roundabout in the capital of Manama in February. But after a month, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa imposed emergency law on the country in March and neighboring Saudi Arabia sent in troops to crush the protests. At least 32 were killed and many more detained and reportedly tortured while imprisoned including members of Bahrain’s national soccer team.
While the US and Western countries have called for political dialogue in Bahrain, they have stopped short of seriously pressuring Bahrain’s rulers and offering their support for the protests as in other countries. The West, says Al Jazeera , has also blamed Iran for “instigating its co-religionists in the small kingdom to cause dissent”; Bahrain’s Shia deny this claim.
The king of Bahrain, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, has announced that he will pardon some of those detained during the violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, Al Jazeera reports. In a televised speech on Sunday with the end of the fasting month of Ramadan approaching, the king said:
“We would like to emphasize that we do not anticipate putting everyone on trial. There are those who are charged with abusing us and senior officials in Bahrain, we today announce that we forgive them.
“Although I do not like to interfere in the course of justice, I would like to confirm that all the cases of civilians will have their verdicts issued by a civil court.”
The use of the security court, presided over by military and civilians judges, has been heavily criticized by rights groups, says the New York Times. Also on Sunday, a special security court resumed the trial of 20 doctors and nurses; the trial was adjourned until September 7, when the court will begin calling witnesses. More than 45 doctors and nurses who had treated injured protesters were arrested in total and accused of treason. Human rights groups, including Doctors Without Borders, have protested their arrests and reports of being tortured.
The Bahraini Health Professionals Association is documenting violations on the health profession in Bahrain; besides the harsh crackdown on medical professionals, injured patients in hospitals have also been attacked. A Facebook page has more information.
Human rights activist Zainab al-Khawaja, who went on a hunger strike after her father, Aldulhadi al-Khawaja, and husband were arrested and imprisoned, describes the treatment of one detainee, Jaffar, who has been sentenced to two years in prison; this photo shows Jaffar with his four-year-old twin daughters, Fatima and Zainab. Khawaja writes that Jaffar has been transferred to Bahrain’s worst prison, Jaw prison, “so bad that detainees ask their families not to visit them.” She adds that “many detainees at Jaw told families they get tortured be4 and after visits, & asked them to just communicate thru 1 call per week .” Khawaja’s own father has been sentenced to life in prison and is currently in a cell with her uncle; a camera records their every move and the government has dismissed their accusations of torture for lack of evidence.
The king said that Bahrain’s Supreme Court will oversee compensation payments for victims of abuses or for the families of those killed during unrest, including security forces. But protest-related trials will still continue. Noting that “the last few months were painful for all of us, and even though we all live in the same country, some have forgotten about the inevitability of coexistence,” the king did not offer any concessions to the Shiites, who comprise about 70 percent of the island kingdom’s population. Shiites led the protests, calling for the Sunni dynasty to ease its hold on power, setting policies and selecting government officials; while the Shiites are a majority in Bahrain, they have been excluded from high-ranking political and security posts.
Bahrain’s government opened reconciliation talks in July but the leading Shia party walked out of the talks and said it might call for more protests. An independent fact-finding panel has been appointed to investigate human rights abuses in Bahrain and is expected to issue a report in October.
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Photo of Manama's Salmaniya Hospital, where some of the detained doctors and nurses worked, by Conor McCabe