Activist’s Arrest Brings to Light Human Rights Abuses in Bahrain
IR Review Online
By: Becca Shipler
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Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, one of the most prominent human rights activists in Bahrain, recently won a retrial in civil court after previously being sentenced to life in prison for leading the opposition during the Arab Spring protests in 2011. Twenty-one other prisoners of conscience are up for retrial as well, eight of them having received life sentences.
However, human rights groups categorize the trial as extremely unfair, mainly because al-Khawaja will have to remain in custody until the retrial. Al-Khawaja is currently in the hospital due to his recent hunger strike, which greatly deteriorated his health. His wife, Khadija al-Moussawi said that he was force fed in the hospital before the retrial ruling. She also believes the retrial will be an excuse for the government to prolong his imprisonment.
Due to his status as a dual citizen of Bahrain and Denmark, Danish authorities have requested to have al-Khawaja released and sent to Denmark for treatment. However, the Bahrain authorities have denied their request. During his time in prison, Al-Khawaja says that he was abused and beaten, bringing to light the larger issue of human rights abuses in Bahrain. In fact, Human Rights Watch has accused the Bahraini police of regularly beating and torturing arrested protestors.
Protests in Bahrain began in February 2011 and continue today. The main objectives are to rewrite Bahrain’s constitution, to institute fair elections, to establish equal rights for the Shi’a majority and to end economic and human rights violations. Protestors have also called for the abdication of King Hamad bin Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, after his violent crackdown on protestors at the Pearl Roundabout in Manama,the nation’s capital, on Feb. 17, 2011. It is now known in Bahrain as “Bloody Thursday.”
Many people feel discontented with the Al Khalifa monarchy, which has been in power since 1970 when Bahrain gained its independence from the British. Because the monarchy has been in control of the country for so long, change in Bahrain is desired by much of its population. However, implementing change will take time to occur. As a major obstacle to this change, King Hamad does not want to lose his power. Therefore, when anti-monarchist sentiments arose, he declared a state of emergency. It was lifted on June 1, 2011, but the protestors have not given up on their goals and have continued to protest against the treatment of political prisoners, like al-Khawaja.
The largest, most recent protest was on March 9, 2012 when 100,000 to 200,000 people protested on a highway between the cities of Duraz and Muksha. This march was assembled by Sheikh Isa Qassim, Bahrain’s most influential Shi’a cleric for the purpose of calling for an end to the monarchy and the release of political prisoners. However, the protestors were dispersed with tear gas when they tried to march on the now demolished Pearl Roundabout.
So far, the protestors have gained international attention, but have not been able to make much progress in Bahrain. Most of the opposition’s leaders are in prison, like al-Khawaja, and it is unclear how many will be given prison sentences. However, what is clear is that blatant human rights violations are taking place in Bahrain and must be addressed by the international community, with the hope of possibly putting an end to these abuses.