6-28-2011By Robert Joyce
Human Rights Defenders Program
On Wednesday a military court in Bahrain announced its latest outrage. Twenty-one activists were sentenced in a “sham trial” with eight receiving life sentences and the remanding 13 given between two and 15 years. Among those sentenced was Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, a prominent human rights activist.
There has been word from family members that he had been beaten both before and after his sentencing. His daughter was violently removed from court after she shouted in response to the sentence. She was charged with contempt of court and later released. In a recent Twitter post she says: “Just got news that my father was severely beaten after court yesterday! He was hit mostly on his face, on the already fractured bones!” Other defendants also show evidence of torture on their bodies.
A national dialogue is set to begin on July 1st, but former MPs have already denounced it while the Bahraini government continues to sentence and arrest human rights activists, host Gulf Cooperation Council troops (mostly from Saudi Arabia), and violently put down protests. Trials are continuing around the country, with an estimated 400 people charged in relation to calls for democracy, including 47 doctors and nurses arrested for treating those assaulted by security forces. Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley was refused entry to one of these trials on his recent visit to Bahrain on May 12th.
The U.S. Government has continued its relatively muted line on Bahrain. While many say the United States has privately increased pressure, it’s time for that pressure to become public. Naming Bahrain as a violator of human rights is one good step, but another could be a discussion of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. It has been previously suggested that the fleet be moved or even disbanded.
The U.S. Government must make clear that its relationship with Bahrain is not unconditional – that it does not want to be seen as friends with torturers. And that to be a partner of the United States, Bahrain must act in a responsible way. The partnership needs renegotiating, and the future of the Fifth Fleet ought to be part of that discussion.