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August 26, 2016

Bahrain’s Truth Will Out

This blog is a cross post from the Huffington Post.

Here we go again—there’s a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva in a few weeks, which means Bahrain is slapping travel bans on activists who might go there and, ya know, tell the truth about what’s happening in the dictatorship.

Human rights lawyer Mohammed Al Tajer was prevented from leaving the country this week, as were other human rights defenders Enas Oun and Hussain Radhi. Expect more bans in the coming days. Radha was prevented from going to Geneva in June, as were several other activists.

These bans show that the kingdom is a little sensitive about its international reputation, preferring to give its own distorted version of its repression. It’s a tactic that has had some success, not least in Washington. For some years Bahrain’s ruling family has successfully gaslighted the U.S. government, repeatedly conning the Obama Administration into ignoring the awful truth and convincing it that Bahrain is making genuine progress on human rights. It’s an approach the regime is sticking with.

Last week its notoriously awful state media outlet the Bahrain News Agency reported that the First Deputy Speaker of the Representatives Council Ali Abdullah Al Arad lauded the discredited National Institute for Human Rights for its “pioneering role in projecting Bahrain’s bright human rights record worldwide.” Then this week the agency reported how Information Affairs Minister Ali bin Mohammed Al-Rumaihi had cited the kingdom’s “political, economic and media openness.” This is despite the regime routinely targeting local reporters and preventing foreign journalists from entering the country.

Not content with lying like Ryan Lochte, Bahrain’s government wants to stop any legitimate criticism—either by preventing people from going to the United Nations or jailing leading dissidents. This month Ghada Jamsheer was detained, the latest addition to the long list of human rights defenders in Bahrain’s jails. According to the Gulf Centre for Human Rights she was sentenced on appeal on June 22, 2016 to one year in prison by the Second High Criminal Court for four cases related to her tweets about corruption at King Hamad hospital.

Later this week human rights defenders Dr. Taha Al Derazi and cleric Sheikh Maytham Al Salman go on trial, charged with taking part in illegal assemblies. The week after that leading activist Nabeel Rajab is back in court. Bahrain’s judicial system seems so busy with these sorts of cases that its chief function appears to be muzzling dissent. 

But for all of the government’s attempts to hide what’s going in Bahrain, the truth continues to emerge: ongoing arbitrary arrests, torture in custody, unfair trials, and the targeting of civil society.

Next year it will be Bahrain’s turn to be examined in the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process. There will be no hiding its abysmal record, and NGOs who’d like to file a UPR report to the U.N. on the regime’s attacks on human rights can do so here before September 22, 2016.

Organizations who monitor human rights in Bahrain should use this mechanism to help force the dictatorship to answer for its crimes before an international audience. It’s a rare opportunity that only comes around every four years, and those of us who can speak out without fear of arrest should do so.