Karen Dabrowska

Tripoli Post Article

Originally published: 4th January 2014

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Bahrain: Martyrs Day Commemorated, Children Persecuted

Martyrs Day was marked in mid December by the people of Bahrain in their revolutionary style of protests, demonstration, visits to martyrs families and graves of those murdered by the Al Khalifa regime. Most towns and villages on the small island were engaged in some antiregime activities to mark the occasion that has become a rallying point for protesters for the past two decades.

There are no empty walls in the villages west of the capital Manama. Graffiti calling for the king’s overthrow is crossed out every day by the authorities but it reappears somewhere else. Police vehicles ‘guard’ the entrance to every village and even in the well to do areas of the capital the residents are dissatisfied with the lack of freedom and justice.

In December 1994 police using live bullets shot two Bahraini youths. It was the beginning of the longest-ever uprising that continued until 2000. Hani Khamis and Hani Al Wasti were demonstrating against the regime in two separate locations (Jidhafs and Sanabis) when they were shot. Since then annual demonstrations continued to mark Martyrs Day.

On the same day in 2007 another martyr was killed. Ali Jassim, 22, lost his life after he took part in a demonstration to mark the day. The regime’s forces resorted to harsh measures that failed, in a desperate attempt to stop the countrywide protests. They stormed residential areas in Aali, Duraz, Bani Jamra, Sitra and other towns, arrested people and raided many homes.

In Britain, the Bahraini opposition organised several events including a special service for the martyrs at one of the mosques, and protests outside Downing Street and the Saudi Embassy. Saudi troops are assisting the Al Khalifa regime to suppress opposition. Had it not been for Saudi intervention during the protests at Pearl Roundabout in 2011 it likely that the regime would have been toppled.

A roundtable discussion among Bahraini human rights bodies was held at the headquarters of Human Rights Watch. This was followed by a seminar at the House of Lords. Lord Avebury chaired the event saying that the situation in Bahrain has now sunk further into repression and dictatorship. He criticised the UK government for failing to support the people and continuing to receive Bahrain’s dictators.

Lord Avebury said that it is unfortunate the Foreign Affairs Committee didn’t explore some of the current human rights abuses in Bahrain which have wide implications: the deprivation of the citizenship of 31 Bahrainis, many of whom have sought asylum in the UK, and the forcing into exile of others such as Said Yousif Al-Muhafdha who received death threats.

“A Vice-President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, Maryam al Khawaja, the Acting President of BCHR, tried to enter Bahrain in August but was prevented from boarding a British Airways flight on the orders of the regime, and of course the President Nabeel Rajab is serving a two-year prison sentence for freedom of expression ‘crimes’.

Now the BCHR has published the names of officials accused of complicity in acts of torture, of whom probably the most notorious is Adel Flaifel, the former deputy under the British citizen Ian Henderson, head of the security apparatus until 2002. He is covered by the general amnesty issued that year, but if he should ever set foot outside Bahrain he could be tried in any country that has implemented the Convention Against Torture.

This is no easy matter, as we recall from the attempts we made to have Ian Henderson charged on the basis of five witness statements we collected demonstrating his participation in, or presence at, acts of torture. The BCHR list includes 59 names of alleged torturers, and they are calling for an end to the impunity these people enjoy.

“The visit of UN rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez – whose case against the Argentine military regime I took up in 1976 - was postponed indefinitely in April, just after the US State Department published a report on Bahrain referring to ‘significant’ violations including torture in detention. Why is the UK not raising the question of impunity publicly with the Al Khalifas, and demanding that the suspension of Juan Mendez’s visit be raised?” Lord Avebury asked.

A prominent Human Rights lawyer, Daniel Carey of London-based Pierce Deighton Glynn law firm spoke about his work trying to stop the 1.6 million gas canisters to be supplied by a South Korean company to Bahrain’s brutal regime.

Sarah Walden of the Campaign Against Arms Trade said that the UK is likely to approve more arms deals to Bahrain, thus offering legitimacy to the regime. When Bahrain buys UK arms, she said, it knows that it also buys UK silence.

Jawad Fairooz, a former MP from Al Wefaq spoke about the significance of Martyrs Day and called for concrete international action to bring those responsible for human rights violations in Bahrain to justice.

Mrs Jalila Ni’ma, the aunt of Martyr Ali Ni’ma spoke about the ordeals of the martyrs’ families and how they are relentlessly persecuted. She called on the world to exert pressure on the regime to stop this persecution and prosecute the killers of their sons instead.

The latest special report by Amnesty International described how Bahrain’s children have become victims of the regime’s brutality pointing out that children are being routinely detained, ill-treated and tortured. It provides an insight into the secret world of the Al Khalifa dungeons where children are subjected to horrific torture including beatings and rape.

The use of public relations firms in the UK and USA by the Al Khalifa regime is increasing with people’s wealth lavishly spent to defend the hereditary dictatorship. According to John Horne of Bahrain Watch, the Washington-based PR company, Qorvis was paid $239,844 by the Bahrain Embassy in the US between April and September last year.