Just because the Formula 1 World Championships are over doesn’t mean we should turn our eyes away from Bahrain.
As you may or may not know, on February 14, the Arab Spring came to Bahrain in the form of pro-reform protests. But unlike some other areas of the Middle East, the crackdown in Bahrain was brutal. Hundreds of people were detained and thousands of protesters were dismissed from their universities and jobs. Civilians were tried in military courts that handed down some extreme sentences.
In November of last year, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) found that the government had used excessive force, people had been tortured, and protesters were on trial or had been on trial for exercising their internationally protected right of free expression and assembly.
Now that we have a background, let me tell you story of Jalila al-Salman and Mahdi ‘Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb. Mahdi and Jalila were the president and vice president of the Bahrain Teachers Association. I say they were, because they have both been arrested and detained for calling for teacher strikes during the uprisings.
Mahdi was arrested and detained in April 2011 and spent 64 days in solitary confinement and has testified that was tortured. He remains in prison despite his deteriorating health. He has been sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Jalila was detained in late March 2011. She was ill-treated and verbally abused while in prison. In August 2011, Jalila, along with her fellow detainees, participated in a hunger strike, and was released on bail later that month. However, she was later sentenced in abstentia by a military court to three years in prison.
The Bahrain government didn’t let Jalila out for long. In the wee hours of the morning in mid-October, she was re-arrested despite the lack of an official arrest warrant. She was conditionally released in November 2011.
Both Jalila and Mahdi’s appeal is being heard by the High Criminal Court.
The cases of Jalila and Mahdi are emblematic of what is going on in Bahrain as a whole. The two were detained solely for their non-violent opposition to the regime. The charges brought against them tell it all: “inciting hatred towards the regime,” “calling to overthrow and change the regime by force,” “calling on parents not to send their children to school,” and “calling on teachers to stop working and participate in strikes and demonstrations.”
Do you remember those findings by the BICI I mentioned above? Well the King promised to implement some of that committee’s recommendations, but it’s not going so well. Trials have been transferred to civilian courts and torture claims have been forwarded to the Prosecutor’s office, but Amnesty International is not aware of any serious efforts to ensure accountability. (Full disclosure: Amnesty is an organization in which I am a member leader.) Excessive force and torture continue, people connected to the protests remain in prison, and trials do not meet international standards. Freedom of expression and assembly continues to be threatened in Bahrain.
This is definitely outrageous. But there is something you can do about it. You can send letters and emails to Bahrain’s government officials, gather petition signatures, and join one of several solidarity actions. If we all band together we can help protect the basic human rights of these two Bahraini teachers and the people they represent.
Image credit: Jacobs - Creative Bees