6-7-2012By Christiana Renfro
Human Rights Defenders
The June 4th episode of Al Jazeera’s live online show The Stream brought together prominent figures to discuss whether “reconciliation” is a possibility in Bahrain.
Several guests claimed that the Kingdom is truly, finally on the path to reform, citing examples such as the publication of the of the government-sponsored Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) in November and the release of Bahrain Center for Human Rights President Nabeel Rajab from prison last month. Fahad Albinali, a government spokesperson, argued that support of the BICI by the monarchy constitutes a significant step. And statements by King Hamad played on the program show the Bahraini leader pledging to uphold “the democratic culture and practice on the land of our beloved country.”
Opposition party Al-Wefaq member Matar Matar countered that no substantive changes have been instituted since the release of the BICI. The release of a report in itself does not constitute real change, he said.
Actions taken—and not taken—by the Bahraini government back up Matar’s bleak assessment. After Cherif Bassiouni’s public announcement of the conclusions of the report— that thousands had been arrested, many tortured, and some killed in the streets and in prisons—King Hamad failed to live up to his promise to “follow up and implement” the recommended reforms. For instance, the regime hasn’t dropped charges against policemen who refused to participate in the crackdown on protesters. Nor has it dropped charges against twenty Bahraini medical professionals who were tortured into confessing to the crime of aiding protesters.
Permitting peaceful dissent and the airing of legitimate grievances—and the release of those imprisoned for such dissent—will be essential before any real reconciliation occurs. But rather than allowing more dissent, the Bahraini regime has actually intensified its crackdown on human rights activists in recent months. On June 6th, for example, the government rearrested Rajab. He has been detained again—this time for at least a week, and is being prosecuted for taking part in “illegal gatherings” and for criticizing the government in his tweets.
The Stream guests speculated as to the role of the United States in encouraging (or discouraging) reform and reconciliation. Matar took an optimistic perspective, arguing that the United States could play a crucial part in encouraging the regime to release political prisoners and to allow peaceful dissent, and that the US has an obligation to play the sort of leadership role that it has failed to fulfill thus far.