Human Rights in Bahrain

Article excerpt

On Oct. 19, the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies (CCAS) at Georgetown University in Washington, DC held a panel discussion on the human rights crisis in Bahrain. Joe Stork, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch, began by providing an historical context on human rights in the Gulf nation. In 1994, then-Emir Isa ibn Salman Al Khalifa began to dismantle the police state known for torture and political repression. This mission gained urgency with Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa's accession to the throne in 1999.

Unfortunately, according to Stork, 2007 saw increasing tensions between the minority ruling Sunnis and the majority Shi'i populations, leading to a rise in reports of torture. In December 2008, a number of protests in Shi'i neighborhoods and villages around the capital, Manama, prompted the security forces to begin a campaign of mass arrests. Those detained reported severe beatings, the use of electro-shock devices, prolonged suspension in painful positions, and other forms of torture. These reports resulted in further protests, illegal in Bahrain, which led to even more arrests and accounts of torture.

The October 23 parliamentary elections witnessed a further deterioration of human rights on the island, resulting in the arrest of several political opposition leaders and roughly 250 activists in August and September of 2010. While allegations of torture have been documented, at least 24 of those arrested have been denied the ability to meet with their lawyers and have been charged with crimes that, according to Stork, would be considered protected speech by international standards. Concurrent with the arrests, the government has cracked down on opposition Web sites, pressured politicians to curb criticism, and nationalized election monitoring to exclude impartial or international observers.

Stork concluded by saying that one of the most disturbing aspects of this recent crackdown is the "complete silence of the United States." While the Obama administration has been very vocal in calling for free and fair elections in Egypt as well as the need for the Mubarak regime to reform its human rights practices, it has said nothing about ensuring the transparency of Bahraini elections or the government's actions against activists and opposition leaders. …