While unarmed civilians die on Bahrain's streets, the king of the tiny oil-rich
nation continues to tell his people he is eager for dialogue and refuses entry
to a prominent human rights champion from the U.S.
Denied a visa was Richard Sollom, deputy president of the US-Based
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), who was hoping to attend the trial of
doctors and nurses that treated injured protestors during months of unrest
He left for Dubai, from where he told The Washington Post, "I am quite
stunned. This was the first time a member of an international rights
organization came to Bahrain after authorities promised to respect human
rights and told us we can come and see for ourselves.
"We can see now that not much has changed," he added.
Sollom thus became the second huan rights executive to be denied entry to
Bahrain. Brian Dooley of Human Rights First, a major US-based human
rights organization, applied for a visa but received a letter from Bahrain's
Minister for Human Rights and Social Development, Fatima Al Booshi, on
January 11th suggesting he should delay his entry until the end of February.
In his reply, Dooley reminded the Minister that she told him on November
24th 2011 that non-government organizations (NGOs) would have access to
Bahrain if they gave "five days' notice of their arrival". Brian informed the
"Human Rights" Ministry of his proposed visit next week, on December
Bahrain's Foreign Minister, Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed Al-
Khalifa, also assured human rights groups that NGOs would have
"unfettered access to Bahrain."
In his letter to the Minister, Dooley also noted that, at the release of the
Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report in November,
King Hamad had assured the world that 'any Government which has a
sincere desire for reform and progress understands the benefit of objective
and constructive criticism,' and that the day of the report of the BICI report
'turns a new page of history.' "
Calling this a backward step for the Kingdom, Faisal Fulad, President of the
Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRWS), said: "His Majesty the King has
made it clear that Bahrain has nothing to hide when he opened the country
up to the world in October, facing the truth of an independent commission
which reported last year's democratic protests."
He added: "So why are we now back to this? By not allowing a human rights
activist to enter the kingdom, we are giving conflicting messages to the
world that will now be asking, once again - is Bahrain a free and democratic
country or not?"
He suggested a "return to an offer of talks put on the table last March" by
the Crown Prince and the Deputy Supreme Commander." Members of the
opposition have made similar calls.
The Crown Prince had proposed a National Dialogue that included talks
on seven key points: A parliament with full authority; a government that
represents the will of the people; a review of naturalization; fair voting
districts; the combating of corruption; state property; and addressing
Bahrain's King and his family are Sunni Arabs. Most of the Bahraini
population consists of Shia Muslims and foreign workers. The Shias have
long-standing complaints of discrimination against them in jobs, housing
and social acceptance.
"Bahrain's leadership has taken many brave steps forward in the last year to
show that democracy is alive in the kingdom, but this move seems to take us
back to stage one," Fulad said, adding:
"I believe this is a time for the second phase of dialogue and to concentrate
on HRH the Crown Prince's seven points. At the same time, reforms should
be stronger so that people will believe reform is happening."
Meanwhile, human rights defenders, medics, students and others targeted by
the Bahraini government in its crackdown on pro-democracy efforts
continue to face abusive detention despite growing calls for their release.
One of those calls came from United Nations High Commissioner for
Human Rights Navi Pillay called for the unconditional release of all
Bahraini detainees imprisoned after a military trial. Human Rights First
(HRF) noted that the Bahraini government had failed to comply with that
request and, in fact, "is taking steps to delay the appeals of those accused."
"Yesterday, a group of students from the University of Bahrain who were
sentenced to 15 years each by the military court had their appeal hearing
postponed until March. Five of them remain in Bahrain's Jaw Prison," said
"Their case and others like it make clear that Bahrain's leaders are ignoring
key calls for reform issued by Commissioner Pillay and even the Kingdom's
own Bassiouni Commission," he said.
In addition to the students, the Bahrain regime continues to contest the
appeals of others sentenced by the military court, including 20 medics who
appear to have been prosecuted for treating injured protestors and telling the
media about the nature and extent of injuries.
Dr. Nada Dhaif is one of the medics sentenced to 15 years after a trial in
military court. Dr. Dhaif was summoned by the police for a four-hour
interrogation on December 25. During that interrogation, she was warned to
keep a low profile, an apparent government response to her decision to speak
with the media and human rights organizations about how she and others
were tortured in detention.
Dr. Dhaif told Dooley, "I am being targeted for telling the world the
continuing truth about Bahrain. Members of my family are also being
harassed by the regime. I have only ever advocated peaceful reform but am
being threatened for my human rights advocacy."
Local human rights activists also report ongoing concerns about treatment in
custody. Hassan Oun, aged 18, was rearrested today after speaking to a local
human rights organization. During previous interrogations, Oun said he was
raped by a security officer.
That officer allegedly later called Oun after his release and threatened to
rearrest him and rape him until he died. According to Maryam Al
Khawaja of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, Oun was recently arrested
again in what she said was revenge against him for speaking to their center.
Every indication points away from the Royal Family's willingness to engage
in discussions of reform and reverse the variety of heinous human rights
abuses committed by the country's security apparatus.
For most democracies in the international community, the King's double-
dealing has triggered a profound sense of disappointment and betrayal.
Hopes soared high when the King, in a first-of-a-kind move in the Middle
East, commissioned and accepted a genuinely independent report prepared
under the leadership of a distinguished judge from Egypt. That report found
that Bahrain was guilty of unacceptable human rights violations, including
widespread torture in detention.