For Immediate Release: June 29, 2011
Washington, D.C.— The Bahraini military court’s decision to postpone the appeals of 21 dissidents to overturn the sentences handed down to them last week undermines prospects for a successful national dialogue, said Human Rights First.
“The government claims it’s starting a process of reconciliation while keeping human rights activists and credible opposition figures in prison,” said Brian Dooley of HRF. “There are real fears among activists in Bahrain that this process of dialogue is a sham to fool the international community. Today’s postponement fuels those fears.”
One of the defendants, prominent human rights activist Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, was reportedly hospitalized due to the beatings he received in custody after his sentence was read out on June 22. As the dialogue opens in July, mass trials of doctors, nurses and others accused by the authorities of trying to overthrow the government are set to continue. Defendants have not had proper access to lawyers, defense statements have not been accepted by the judges, and widespread and credible reports of torture of detainees continue to emerge.
President Obama warned Bahrain in his May 19 Middle East speech that “you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail,” but that is what’s happening.
Human Rights First has asked a range of human rights activists and defenders what they think of the proposed national dialogue, which is being organized by the national government. Around 300 assorted representatives of civil society have been invited. “All have been asked to provide papers and will be invited to the central library ‘Sheikh Isa Centre’ to be subdivided onto groups,” said one prominent activist who asked to remain anonymous. “The groups will be chaired by handpicked individuals trained to prevent any redline topic from reaching a conclusion.”
Another activist condemned the proposed process, saying the government could not be serious about dialogue when it is still shooting protestors, humiliating them at checkpoints, arresting them and attacking their homes. “This is just misleading the international community that they are in a process of reconciliation,” he said.
In May, Human Rights First published a report on human rights violations in Bahrain. The report includes illustrative cases and testimonies from human rights defenders, activists and victims, and recommends actions the U.S. government should take to address the crisis.