May 21 2013
More than two years after peaceful demonstrators took to the streets to demand reforms, Bahrain’s uprising has not abated. Activists and opposition groups continue to demand the basic human rights and political reforms promised to them by their government. Rather than meet the opposition’s calls for reform, the government of Bahrain has responded by subjecting citizens to arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, interrogation, torture, and abuse.
Human rights activists such as Naji Fateel, board member of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, and Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, are frequently subjected to arbitrary arrest and ill treatment. Similarly, medical professionals who have been interrogated, detained, tortured, and convicted for providing medical care to injured protesters remain in prison or have not been allowed to return to work. Educators who have endured similar ill-treatment continue to be fired from their positions or languish in prison, while soccer players who were banned from their clubs for participating in protests remain blacklisted or live in self-imposed exile to continue playing the sport they love.
The demands of the opposition movement are hardly unreasonable, which makes the government’s recalcitrance all the more suspect. The people of Bahrain want a representative government and an elected prime minister. They want a representative of the king to participate in the national dialogue. They want an end to human rights abuses and accountability for those who committed them. They want the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), a body commissioned by the Bahraini government following the 2011 protests, to be fully implemented. They want prisoners of conscience, jailed for exercising their rights to free speech and expression, to be released. They want to be able to associate freely in political groups, civil society organizations, unions, and associations. In the grand scheme of things, the financial, moral, and political cost to the Bahraini government for granting these requests would be negligible.
Unfortunately, reform — the key to Bahrain’s stability and security — is what the Bahraini government seems determined to prevent. As the U.S. State Department noted in its 2012 Human Rights Country Report on Bahrain, although the government of Bahrain has made “some” progress in implementing reforms since 2011, that progress has not been significant. The report found that the Bahraini government frequently did not respect its own laws regarding human rights, let alone the standards set by international human rights treaties. Additionally, the report highlighted cases of arbitrary arrest and detention; restrictions placed on freedom of speech, press, and assembly; and the use of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, among other rights abuses.
Bahrain’s response to the 2012 country report has been predictably shrill, a sure sign the U.S. State Department struck a nerve with a regime that has become increasingly sensitive about its image. Unfortunately, the Bahraini government seems unable or unwilling to recognize that the best way to improve its image is to undertake the reforms that the king promised in 2011.