Bahrain Weekly Update: Government Suspends al-Wefaq, Arrests Prominent Activist in Renewed Crackdown

June 16, 2016

The headquarters of Bahrain's main opposition party Al Wefaq is pictured in Bilad Al Qadeem, west of Manama

Headlines

Court Suspends Largest Opposition Group

Bahrain Rearrests Human Rights Activist Nabeel Rajab

Zainab al-Khawaja Forced into Exile

Activists Prevented From Attending Human Rights Council

Updates from Bahrain

Bahrain Suspends Largest Opposition Group: A Bahraini court ordered the suspension of all activities by al-Wefaq, the island-nation’s largest opposition party. The Justice and Islamic Affairs Ministry, which asked the court to issue the order, said al-Wefaq’s shuttering was needed to “safeguard the security of the kingdom,” and the Prime Minister claimed the suspension was “within the confines of the constitution” and made “through a fair and independent court ruling.” Abdulla al-Shamlawi, al-Wefaq’s lawyer, said he received the court papers for the hearing only on the morning of the hearing date, and that he had to argue with Bahraini officials to be allowed to give a rebuttal.

In a statement, State Department Spokesperson John Kirby said the United States is “deeply troubled” by the Bahraini government’s “alarming move,” stating that the dissolution of al-Wefaq is “not consistent with a commitment to sustaining,..progress or pursuing unfulfilled reforms.” The State Department also said “we urge Bahraini officials to reconsider this decision,” and that [Bahraini officials] have to speak to the reasons for the decisions that they’ve made. What I can speak for is our view of the decision, which we obviously don’t approve of.” These concerns have been raised with the Bahraini government at “various and high levels,” Kirby said. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power called the move “serious backsliding” on human rights.

The court’s order accused al-Wefaq of destabilizing the monarchy’s security since its inception in 2001 and causing unrest during the 2011 protests. The ministry also alleged that al-Wefaq violated the constitution and was guilty of “activities that sow and divide the unity of citizens.” A hearing was scheduled on October 6 to decide whether to “liquidate” the party. The order follows the recent increase in the sentence of al-Wefaq’s Secretary-General, Shiekh Ali Salman, from 4 to 9 years for “crimes of promoting change to the political system by force.”

Human Rights First said the suspension of al-Wefaq “is part of an alarming new crackdown by the government, designed to eliminate all remaining opposition in the country.” The organization’s Director of Human Rights Defenders, Brian Dooley, criticized the suspensions, saying that Manama “seems determined to kill all avenues of peaceful dissent,” and that the order was a “major statement of intent by the regime that any prospect of reform is over.” He also called on the United States to “act immediately and decisively to persuade the Bahraini ruling family to take corrective action.” Sayed Ahmed al-Wadaei, the director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, condemned the court decision, saying “Bahrain is only reforming itself into a state of silence and terror.”

Bahrain Rearrests Activist Nabeel Rajab: Bahraini authorities arrested prominent activistNabeel Rajab at his home during the early hours of the morning of Monday, June 13. Rajab is the President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Founder of the Gulf Center for Human Rights, and he has reportedly been charged with “spreading false news.” The activist was pardoned from another sentence in 2015 by King Hamad over concerns for his health, but he has repeatedly faced charges relating to free expression since his involvement in the 2011 uprising. Since his release in July, Rajab has faced a travel ban related to two outstanding charges, which have not been dropped.

Brian Dooley of Human Rights First said that Rajab’s detention appeared to be timed to come ahead of a planned United Nations meeting on human rights, and called it a “forceful, frightening message from the Bahraini government that it’s moving against even activists with strong international connections.” Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said that, “One week is too long for a “‘crime’ that isn’t a crime,” calling Rajab’s detention an “obvious effort” to silence rights leaders in Bahrain.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is “very concerned” by the arrest and said it appears that Bahrain’s decisions to suspend al-Wefaq, rearrest Rajab, and increase Shiekh Salman’s sentence are “aimed at restricting the country’s political opposition.” He also announced that he was “dismayed” about reports of government intimidation of human rights activists “for legitimately exercising their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association.” Deputy spokesperson for the U.S. State Department Mark Toner said that the United States is likewise “deeply concerned” by the arrest. He further emphasized that “We don’t believe anyone should be imprisoned for or prosecuted for engaging in peaceful expression or assembly, even if controversial.” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) released a statement calling al-Wefaq’s suspension and Rajab’s detention “an alarming diversion from the path of reform and national reconciliation,” and said that the decisions “could alienate many Bahrainis who have a democratic, inclusive, and pluralistic vision for their country and could contribute to further unrest and violence.”

Zainab al-Khawaja Forced to Flee Bahrain: Human rights activist Zainab al-Khawaja wasforced to flee Bahrain after her recent release from prison, saying that the government told the Danish embassy that if she did not leave the country she would be rearrested and separated from her son indefinitely. Zainab, who also holds Danish citizenship, had been arrested on March 14and held for over two months on 16 separate charges before being released amid international outcry. Zainab noted that if new charges were brought against her in Bahrain she had “absolutely no confidence [she] would get a fair trial.” Zainab, who has been arrested 11 times by authorities, told the New York Times that “I have done all I can do inside of prison.” In her first interview after she fled to Denmark, she said, “It’s the King of Bahrain who should be on trial for the crimes he has committed against Bahrain.”

Zainab stressed that she is “one of the lucky ones” because she had international media attention on her case., while countless other activists receive no public attention for their cases. In response to the news of Zainab’s exile in Denmark, the U.S. State Department Spokesman Mark Toner stated that the U.S. Government continues to “address ongoing human rights concerns, and not just affiliated with high-profile cases but across the board.”

Bahrain Prevents Civil Society Members from Participating in UN Conference: Bahrain refused to allow a delegation of human rights activists from attending the 32nd session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) on Monday. The five activists were given travel bans, the largest number of people Bahrain has placed under a travel ban at a single time, and prevented from traveling by passport officers at the Bahrain International Airport. Ebtisam Alseagh, a member of the delegation, said that airport officials directed her to speak with the Ministry of the Interior, but the Ministry had no security note restricting her travel. When she then attempted to leave Bahrain on the causeway connecting the island country to Saudi Arabia, she was “stopped at the border without any explanation.”

Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid bin Ra’ad al-Hussein criticized Bahrain’s repression of freedom of expression, warning that, “Repression will not eliminate people’s grievances; it will increase them.” Prince al-Hussein also criticized Bahrain’s prosecution of dozens of people for participating in protests and the monarchy’s decision to strip over 250 citizens of their Bahraini citizenship as “severe restrictions on freedom of expression.” Bahrain’s Minister of Foreign Affairs called the high commissioner “powerless,” and emphasized that Bahrain would “not allow anyone to undermine our security and stability.”

Commentary

Bahrain Government Uses “Fake Reforms” to Cover Human Rights Violations: Writing in the Middle East Eye, Zainab al-Khawaja alleged that her recent release from prison is an example of the Bahraini government’s attempts to create an “illusion of reforms.” To maintain this “illusion,” she emphasizes that the monarchy treats the few internationally recognized Bahraini activists more leniently than other arrested Bahraini citizens, hoping to ease international pressures without changing their heavy-handed tactics. Manama also creates “bodies that theoretically are there to protect civilians but in reality serve to whitewash the regime’s violations.”

Al-Khawaja argues that these bodies are “made to give ‘proof’ to outside allies whose interest it is to prove that something is changing in the country.” She stressed that “fake reforms” undertaken by Bahrain “are proof of a survival mechanism aimed at prolonging the rule of an oppressive dictatorship.” She also criticized United Kingdom Foreign Minister Philip Hammond for announcing that Bahrain “is travelling in the right direction” and dismissed the British and American governments support for the kingdom’s “fake reforms.” The head of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), which was created in 2011 to analyze the protests and create recommendations, recently called on the government to fully implement the Commission’s recommendations and disagreed with the government’s misrepresentation of his investigations’ findings.

Media

bahrain

#Bahrain‘s abuses exposed in the media today. @PHammondMP are we still travelling in the right direction?”-Nabeel Rajab

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