May 26, 2011
Bahrain Trials, Tribulations and Detentions
By Jenifer Fenton, CNN
Bahrain plans to lift its state of emergency on June 1. Two days later, the country will learn if it can reschedule its Formula 1 Grand Prix, which was cancelled due to the unrest.
The Gulf Kingdom is hoping for a return to business as usual, but the county’s trials and continued detentions are cause for concern to many.
Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa met with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague in London on Wednesday.
“Bahrain’s recent unrest is distinct in that the protests ultimately divided and polarised society rather than uniting it,” Prince Salman said in a statement released by his office. “Undoubtedly, mistakes have been made by all sides during the recent period, but lessons are being learnt.”
Also Wednesday, four were sentenced in a Bahraini national military court to one year in prison for taking part in pro-democracy demonstrations that began in mid-February, according to Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights.
In a speech addressing the Middle East, U.S. President Barack Obama said that “mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain’s citizens, and will not make legitimate calls for reform go away.” Calling for dialogue, he added, “You can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail.”
This week, Bahrain said it had released 515 detainees since the state of emergency went into effect. It is unclear how many are still being held in custody.
A prominent Bahrain human rights activist said he doubts the government’s figures. At least 1,100 are still believed to be in detention, Nabeel Rajab said. He believes the true number is much higher. The arrests have also continued, Rajab added.
Among those still detained are 46 medical employees, including six women, according to Information Affairs Authority President Shaikh Fawaz bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa. Twenty-nine are facing criminal charges and 17 are accused of committing misdemeanours, Al-Khalifa said on the state news agency’s website this week.
Hassan Ali Mushaima, the leader of the hard-line Shiite opposition group Haq, Ibrahim Sharif, the leader of the secular Waad party and Abdulhadi al Khawaja, a leading human rights activist, are also among those on trial accused of attempting “to topple the regime forcibly in collaboration with a terrorist organization working for a foreign country,” according to Bahrain’s news agency.
Others have disappeared. At least two senior members of Al Wefaq, the main Shiite opposition group are missing. Matar Ebrahim Matar, 35, a former Al Wefaq MP, was taken from his car by armed men in mask on May 2, according to a family member. He has not been heard from him since. Bahrain has not responded to queries about Matar from his family or from CNN. His family is not aware of any charges against Matar. Matar represented the biggest constituency in Bahrain, approximately 16,000 people.
According to Human Rights Watch Jawad Fairuz was also taken on May 2. Matar and Fairuz won seats in Bahrain’s lower house of Parliament in October 2010. The two, along with 16 other Al Wefaq members resigned their position in protest of the government’s crackdown.
On Sunday, Bahrain upheld the death sentences of two men in connection with the killing of two police officers during anti-government protests. Two other men had their sentences commuted to life in prison. Approximately 30 people have been killed since the protest began on February 14.
Bahrain is a key ally of the U.S. in the Persian Gulf and the home of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet
What will change when Bahrain’s state of emergency is lifted on June 1 remains to be seen. “It is more a decision to attract back businesses that left the country and attract Formula 1.” Rajab said. “I don’t think that it is going to change anything on the ground, it is more cosmetic.”