The Revolution of Bahrain

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Since the popular uprising flared up in Bahrain in 2011, the human rights situation has deteriorated in the country. We see how the authorities have unleashed a systematic crackdown on dissenting voices.

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Narration: Bahrain / 2011, A popular uprising against torture, corruption, discrimination and oppression; against the brutality of a totalitarian regime, Inspired by the Arab uprisings at the time, Bahraini people marched to Peal Roundabout, protesting against the Al Khalifa family's monopoly on all power. But that was short-lived as the Bahraini authorities invited Saudi troops into the country to help crush the demonstrations. Many protestors were killed and hundreds were jailed.

Five years later; things are different now; any gathering with more than 5 people is illegal; and demonstrations have been banned in the country; but the movement hasn't gone away; and protests still continue on a daily basis across the country and often end in clashes with the security forces.

The police continuously fire tear gas not only to disperse crowds but to maim, blind and even kill demonstrators. The constant use of the tear gas canisters against civilians by the security forces has been unprecedented in history.

SOUNDBITE [English] Neda al-Salman, Human Rights Activist: “Tears gases happen on a nightly basis in the villages, You see the tear gases used either from far or sometimes you see some tracks they put it inside the houses directly.”

Narration: Police brutality has become a common occurrence in Bahrain and despite pledges of reform the police continue to beat and torture civilians. That’s part of the draconian measures adopted by the regime to clamp down on its citizens in this tiny Island in the Persian Gulf.

SOUNDBITE [English] Nabeel Rajab, Human Rights Activist: “Violence used by the government, repression, people was targeted in their lives, in their living, in their daily lives, in their schools, in their work, in their job.”

Narration: Since the popular uprising flared up in Bahrain in 2011, the human rights situation has more deteriorated in the country. The authorities have unleashed a systematic crackdown on dissenting voices. And the country is still gripped with political deadlock as a Sunni minority rules over a Shia majority with an iron fist. In 2014, the regime detained Sheikh Ali Salman, the head of Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, the main opposition party. Sheik Salman was accused of attempting to overthrow the government; the charge he has vehemently denied.

The court sentenced Sheikh Salman to four years in prison in 2015 but his prison term was extended to nine years in late May 2016, triggering strong criticisms from right groups. Meanwhile the cleric’s lawyers accuse Bahraini authorities of conducting a kangaroo court.

SOUNDBITE [English] Abdulnabi- al-Ekri, President and Bahrain Transparency Society: “They didn't allow him for oral defense, they didn't allow Sheik Ali Salman himself to defend himself so it is all one-sided trial.”

Narration: In early June, 2016 Manama suspended all activities of Al-Wefaq a day after the prominent activist Nabeel Rajab was arrested on a charge of anti-government tweets. James Lynch, at Amnesty International lashed out at Manama for its zero-tolerance policy.

The arrest of Nabeel Rajab appears to be another alarming example of Bahrain's zero-tolerance stance towards peaceful dissent and activism, which it enforces through arbitrary measures including revolving-door detention. To silence activists and those opposing the regime, the kingdom has begun a systematic revocation of citizenship since the last few years.

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Narration: In a report released by Human Rights Watch, Bahraini authorities stripped 208 Bahrainis of their citizenship in 2015. They can be classified into three broad categories: human rights defenders, political activists, journalists, doctors, and religious scholars; and since February 2016, Bahraini authorities have deported five stateless Bahrainis, previously stripped of their citizenship.

In a recent move on June 20, the Bahraini regime stripped top Shia Muslim cleric Ayatollah Isa Qassim of his citizenship. The Interior Ministry accused him of using his position to serve foreign interest and promote sectarianism and violence. After the decision was announced, several hundred Qassim supporters gathered outside his house in the village of Diraz, carrying posters, chanting slogans and staging a sit-in.

The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy slammed the move saying that it will trigger more protests. Seyed Ahmed al-Wadaei, the Institute Director says: "We are deeply concerned that these actions will escalate tensions on the streets and may even lead to violence, as targeting the country's leading Shia cleric is considered to be red line for many Bahrainis."

In Lebanon, the resistance movement Hezbollah has warned that "the unprecedented decision pushes people to difficult choices with severe consequences for the corrupt dictatorial regime."

Meanwhile, the UN condemned Manama's move as "unjustified" but also voiced concern over the mounting crackdown on Bahraini dissidents.

SOUNDBITE [English] Ravina Shamdasani, Spokeswoman, OHCHR: “We’re talking about Bahrain, we're talking about a minimum of 250 people who have been deprived of their nationality but there are some estimates that go much higher than that. Given that, it is clearly unjustified.”

Narration:Rights organizations were also quick to denounce the decision.

SOUNDBITE [English] Joe Stork, Deputy Middle East Director, HRW: “This move has been taken without having regard to law. The allegation al-Wefaq and against Sheikh Isa Qassim of inciting violence. There’s been absolutely no evidence of that.”

Narration: In Iran, Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, strongly condemned the Bahraini regime over the revocation.

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Seyyed Ali Khamenei, Leader of the Islamic Revolution: “They persecuted the diligent scholar Sheikh Isa Qassim. This move shows their stupidity. Sheikh Isa Qassim was a person who until recently - up to the moment he could talk to people - would prevent them from fierce armed movements.”

Narration: As a staunch reformist cleric in the Persian Gulf Kingdom, Sheik Isa Qassim is the last person who can prevent the youths from going all out. The peaceful resistance will change course if the situation against Sheik is not remedied soon. Even the US which regards Bahrain as its top Persian Gulf ally has voiced concern over the decision.

SOUNDBITE [English] John Kirby, Spokesperson of US State Department: “We are obviously alarmed by today's decision to revoke the citizenship of Shiite cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim. We are unaware of any credible evidence to support this action and that assessment is further supported by the fact that he did not appear to even have the opportunity to challenge the charges against him before the decision was made, so we're going to be following this, obviously, very closely.”

Narration: Citizenship is a universal right. It’s not a privilege to be taken away by rulers when they don't like the citizens or see them troublesome. Leaving a person stateless is illegal under international law but the Bahraini regime continues to do it. The question is why Manama is held accountable neither by those western powers nor by international criminal courts? International rights groups have time and again accused the regime of failing to comply with human rights obligations. But Washington which has its fifth fleet in Bahrain has so far failed to exert any pressure on its ally to stop their grave violation of human rights. The same goes for Britain to show once more that money has the final word in its foreign policy.

SOUNDBITE [English] Jeremy Crobyn, Leader, UK Labour Party: “There are a lot of people in this country that do not glory in our arms sales to regimes to oppress those who wish to demonstrate and express their democratic rights. They do not want British bases constructed where it is clear violation of human rights and then the government pretends and looks the other way that everything is improving when it's absolutely not.”

Narration: With the support of the Saudis who are financing the Al Khalifa family and the lip service the US and Britain, the regime uses every possible means to instill fear into the opposition and silence any criticism. Without international political pressure on the Bahraini rulers to change course, there is no let-up in the foreseeable future  


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