Mohammed al-Tajer is one of Bahrain's best-known defense lawyers. He
was the leading defense attorney defending 25 opposition activists who were
tried between October 2010 and February 2011 on charges of plotting to
overthrow the government using "terrorism" and other means.
Today, April 25, marks ten days since Mohammed al-Tajer was arrested at
his house in Bahrain's capital, Manama. On the night of April 15, according
to his wife, more than 20 security officers entered their house in the middle
of the night. She says some were in uniforms, some were in plain clothes
and all except one were wearing masks. They searched all the bedrooms and
confiscated personal items, such as mobile phones, laptops and papers. Then
Mohammad al-Tajer was arrested without explanation. No arrest order was
shown to him or his family, she says.
Then came two days of silence. Finally, he phoned his family for two
minutes on April 17 to let them know he was in the Criminal Investigations
Department (CID) in Manama's al-'Adliya district, and wanted them to
bring him clothes. When the family asked him what the charges against him
were he replied that he did not know.
They still don't know because nothing has been heard from or about al-Tajer
since then, Joe Stork of Human Rights Watch told The Public Record. Like
hundreds of his fellow prisoners, he has been "disappeared."
This prominent attorney, who has defended many cases of opposition and
human rights activism, is but one of the more than 500 Bahraini's who have
been arrested and imprisoned by the country's Security Forces since March.
In addition, according to Maryam Al-Khawaja, Head of Foreign Relations
Office for the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, "More than 800 detainees
were 'disappeared' within days of the imposition of a state of 'national
safety,' (martial law) including 39 women."
According to local human rights groups, those who have been detained since
March include opposition and human rights activists, teachers, doctors and
nurses. They have been arrested for their participation in the February and
March protests calling for far-reaching political and other reform in Bahrain.
The government's most recent concerted campaign has been against
physicians, with the arrest and detention of an estimated three-dozen medical
practitioners, including a number of one-of-a-kind specialists. The
government's reported motive is to prevent the treatment of people injured
in the anti-government demonstrations, to silence their testimony to the
horrendous wounds they treated, and to make Bahraini's so suspicious of
hospitals that they will avoid them rather than risk an encounter with law
According to human rights groups, the whereabouts of the great majority of
detainees remains unknown; many are believed to be held by the Bahrain
Defense Force (BDF). If prosecuted, they may face unfair trials before the
National Safety Court of First Instance and a National Safety Appeal Court,
established under the State of National Safety (SNS) --martial law --
declared by the King of Bahrain on 15 March.
The US government has for the most part given King Hamid's violent
crackdown on demonstrators a 'get out of jail free' card. The White House
and the State Department have used words such as "unfortunate" to lament
the sporadic violence that has wracked this tiny island nation since January.
And they have generally backed the King's calls for a "national dialogue."
Anti-government forces have rejected such a dialogue, believing that the
King would only use it as a way of slowing the pace of protest. But,
according to The Wall Street Journal, US President Barack Obama has said
dialogue was an "opportunity for meaningful reform."
The Obama administration has repeatedly appealed to the Bahraini
government for restraint, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton this
week called for apolitical process that "advances the rights and aspirations of
all the citizens of Bahrain." But the administration has neither recalled its
ambassador to Manama nor threatened the kinds of sanctions it imposed on
Libya -- a striking disparity that is fueling anti-U.S. sentiment among
Bahraini opposition groups.
"Even though the American administration's words are all about freedom
and democracy and change, in Bahrain, the reality is that they're basically a
protection for the dictatorship," said Zainab al-Khawaja, a prominent
human-rights activist who began a hunger strike after her father, husband
and brother-in-law were arrested at her apartment over the weekend.
U.S. officials privately acknowledge that the administration has been
understated in its criticism of Bahrain, in part to avoid further strain in
relations with Saudi Arabia, a vital U.S. ally and neighbor to the tiny island
Why? Why when US and allied military forces are bombing Gaddafi's
Libya, and Obama Administration officials are regularly excoriating Syria's
Assad, is the US being so cautiously conciliatory concerning Bahrain?
There are five main reasons. First, Bahrain hosts the US Navy's Fifth Fleet
and is therefore of strategic importance for the US. Secondly, Bahrain is an
important center for international finance and oil production. Instability here
would be -- and is -- felt in financial markets word-wide.
Third, Saudi Arabia is Bahrain's neighbor -- just 26 km away over a
causeway connecting the two countries. The Saudis fear the rise of a pro-
Iranian Shiite state on its eastern frontier and have urged Bahrain to deal
firmly with the throng of protesters that occupied a central square and
blocked access to Manama's main business district. Saudi fear of the
protests spreading is one reason that Saudi and UAE military units were sent
over that causeway on last month. Their mission is to help the King put
down the demonstrations and maintain order while holding onto his power.
Fourth, while Bahrain's rulers are Sunni Muslims, the vast majority of its
population is Shia. Bahrainis, Saudis and Americans all worry that the
Bahrain's Shias will feel an allegiance that could be exploited by Shia Iran.
Finally, with Saudi Arabia already annoyed at the Americans for throwing
Hosni Murarak under the bus too soon, the US seems willing to search for
ways to avoid further upsetting its longtime ally and oil-supplier.