Call for mission to Bahrain to stop rights violations
(Kristina Stockwood, IFEX MENA Outreach Coordinator) At a meeting of 20 rights groups including IFEX members attending the GM in Beirut on 2 June, Nabeel Rajab of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights joined the group by skype to give an overview of the current situation in Bahrain. He says, “My people began to protest peacefully since 14 February. They didn’t want to remove the government but just have democratic reform, respect for human rights and anti-corruption. For that the government has responded with a bloody crackdown with troops from Saudi Arabia, Emirates and Jordan. They have been arresting people, raiding homes and mosques. People wanted democratic reform but then the government wanted to try to frame it as a religious dispute.”
As Nabeel is speaking he can hear the helicopters overhead above his house.
He continues, “At least 2 people for every thousand people are in jail all of them systematically tortured. At least one editor and blogger have been tortured to death. There are journalists, photographers and editors all in detention, many have left the country. Anyone who criticises the government is jailed. Many people have been interrogated including myself for 6 hours on 31 May for interviews with international media.”
Zainab Al Khawaja has been called for interrogation right now [but then released.] Nabeel syas, “Her crime is doing an interview with CNN and other TV stations. Her father, husband, brother in law and uncle are all in jail All of the people who were jailed are tortured badly. All of them – if they come out of jail – they are silenced. All bloggers are silenced except a few people still blogging with fake names.”
Only a few brave people are free – in the sense that they are not in jail, but not in any other way- except for a few like Nabeel and Zainab. Thousands have been fired from their jobs. University students are in court for tweeting or Facebook criticism and saying they would go to pearl roundabout to protest. Nabeel says, “Harassment is severe for rights defenders.”
Nabeel was arrested 2 months ago and tortured in a car and then let go after he was woken in the night with masked men pointing guns in his head, at 2 oclock in the morning. “My daughter had to experience this – she was there with me,” he says, noting she is very young and has been tramautised. On 21 March, there was a teargas attack on his house which hurt his mother but they saved her an gave her oxygen. His house was last week again attacked by teargas which happens he says “every time I go on the tv and do interviews.”
Nabeel repeatedly thanked the IFEX members and Clearing House staff for their support, along with other international NGOs like Frontline. He said, “Thank you for the statements by ANHRI and Maharat (http://ifex.org/bahrain/2011/05/31/travel_ban/) about these attacks. The Bahraini people feel happy that people are watching and happy to stand with them. We are a victim of the foreign policy of governments. People feel alone. We can be arrested and tortured and sexually assaulted all the time. We see silence from the west because this region has a lot of friends, especially Saudi Arabia which is a known human right violator. This region is the worst region for violations. We are victims of the west who won’t criticise the Bahrain government even though they criticised Libya and supported the revolutions in Egypt or Tunisia. But the international human rights groups with the help of IFEX give us support. You don’t know how much those statements mean. It sounds easy to sign a statement but it’s very important, influential and touching, people really feel very happy that people are watching these crimes and are getting very angry about these violations. Human rights groups are angry at their governments’ policy towards this region. For how long will they be silent? Can the rights groups influence their own governments?”
Nabeel also notes the silence of regional media. He says, “Al Jazeera took a leading role in giving voice to the revolution in other countries, like Libya, Tunisia and Egypt but silent on Bahrain (Al Jazeera English is much better but the Arabic one is influenced by Gulf policy). In the last couple of weeks, we are seeing a bit of movement in media. A few newspapers and TV channels that are pro-democracy will mention it. But really compared to other democracy movements we are not getting coverage.”
He says there are protests going on now in Bahrain: “I am supposed to be in the street right now protesting with my people where I always am. But I wanted to talk to you now because I couldn’t be with you since we met at the IFEX meeting in Oslo in 2009.”
He closes, “Thank you, your support is like air for us, it’s like hope for us. It is lifting our spirit. I admire IFEX members and IFEX staff for their help. I am proud to be a part of the IFEX family.”
He says if the government is serious about dialogue now that the state of mergency is lifed, they must stop persecuting people for doing their human rights work, lift bans on blogs and newspapers, allow newspapers to publish freely.
His message to international NGOs: “You are the only hope we have.” The group was visibly moved by his comments and we went around the room as each person promised their solidarity. Some of the people will join a fact-finding mission – colleagues from Europe, Tunisia, Egypt will all try to go to Bahrain. Watch for upcoming news on IFEX about Bahrain, including trial monitoring of rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and blogger Abdulhadi AlKhawaja who will be sentenced on 22 June – they are in jail and being tortured for peacefully protesting. IFEX members have repeatedly called for their release: http://ifex.org/bahrain/