Forty years after the British withdrawal – Bahrain Freedom Movement

Bahrain: From colonialism to dictatorship and occupation In mid-August 1971 Britain withdrew its forces from all areas east of Suez, including Bahrain. The end of the 150 years of British protection heralded a new era of extreme repressive dictatorship. How much did the British legacy influence the subsequent decades? How deeply-rooted is the on-going revolution in that legacy? Can the regime survive?

Tuesday 23rd August 2011

House of Lords, London

Lord Avebury, Vice Chairman Parliamentary Human Rights Group:  As most of you know, we have been holding seminars on human rights and democracy in Bahrain here in the Palace of Westminster for the best part of two decades in the hope of conributing in a small way to the struggle by the people for their freedom, and my correspondence also dates back to 1993. The Bahrain Minister of the Interior then, who was needless to say a member of the prolific al-Khalifa family, was referring to the Committee for the Defence of Political Prisoners as a ‘terrorist-controlled propaganda organisation’, and Ian Henderson, a British citizen, was head of the Bahrain security apparatus, where he presided over the systematic torture and detention without trial of opponents of the government.

Today the al-Khalifas still exercise absolute power, now with a fake parliament and gerrymandered elections as a smokescreen for the same pattern of abuse: mass arrests, show trials, torture to extract confessions, extrajudicial executions, and two added twists compared with 20 years ago: the systematic dismissal from jobs in the private as well as the public sector of anyone suspected of being sympathetic to the opposition, and the recruitment of Sunni mercenaries from Syria, Yemen and Pakistan to beef up the security forces and change the demographic balance of the population.

To protect himself and his family against international obloquy for these heinous crimes against the people, the king has appointed a commission of inquiry, to look into charges of gross abuses of human rights, but only during the months of February and March, and not up to the  time they arrived in Bahrain in July when the abuses were continuing unabated. It was a mistake for the investigation to be conducted by a body appointed by the man who stands at the apex of the alleged criminal activities.. The right approach would have been for an independent inquiry by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, as indeed she contemplated originally. Even if the royal commission had preserved its distance from the government, the perception would have been that, owing its existence to the king, it would be susceptible to influence by the boss. In practice, it seems they have had a cosy relationship with the oligarchs. The chairman, Mr Cherif Bassiouni, has exonerated the king and the crown prince of any responsibility for the actions of their government; has praised the interior minister, the attorney-general and the military prosecutor; he says that there was no proof whatsoever of crimes against humanity, and he declares that if there are no signs of torture on a person’s body, that means he wasn’t tortured. As most people know, and Mr Bassiouni must surely be aware as a human rights expert, there are methods of torture that don’t leave marks, such as water-boarding, low-level electric shocks, or sexual abuse.

Of course, it may be that Mr Bassiouni has been misquoted, though he hasn’t disclaimed any of the quotes attributed to him; but if this was so it demonstrates his naivety in talking to the local  media, which are all under the control of the dictators. If the quotations are accurate, it would show that the head of the commission has pre-empted its findings, before his colleagues have had the chance to express their views. No wonder this aroused widespread resentment, leading to an obstreperous demonstration by hundreds of people at the commission’s office, and making it probable that the commission would forfeit some of the further evidence it would have received  from members of the public if its chairman had avoided making statements until the report was published.

I must emphasise, however, that it is vital the commission be given the space to complete its work and make a report, because it represents the only hope of remedy for thousands of victims of the repression: for the families of those killed on the streets or in custody; for those given vicious prison sentences by the military kangaroo court including life sentences on Hassam Mushaima. Leader of the Opposition Haq Movement, Abduljalil al-Singace, Director of the Human Rights Bureau of the opposition, and Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, co-founder of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, all friends of ours who have addressed these seminars in the past, and of course for the 2,614 families of those recorded by trade unions as arbitrarily sacked from their posts on both the public and private sectors. This number would probably increase to 3,000 if it included those who didn’t bother to notify the unions or went abroad, meaning that taking dependants into consideration some 15,000 people have been made destitute overnight.

I believe that Bassiouni was given the impression by some in government that the sacked workers, such as the doctors, the 300 or so refinery workers, only about 10% of whom have been taken back so far, would all be returned to their jobs. That this hasn’t happened is perhaps an indication of disputes between hardliners and conciliators within the al-Khalifa.  The courts resume in the second week of September, after the Eid festival, and if it then appears that the regime wants to tough it out, there will be an intensification of street clashes, with even more people thrown into prison, and formidably greater difficulty in reaching a peaceful transition from dictatorship to a modern system of democratic government by the people. Whatever the Bsiouni commission may recommend in October, it could be too late for the changes that would be permissible under their terms of reference, that don’t include reforms of governance itself. Merely to deal with the outrages against the people committed since February, while leaving power in the hands of those who committed these crimes, is not likely to be seen as the solution, when compared with the outcomes elsewhere in the Arab world. If dictators are overthrown, with international support and approval, in Egypt, Libya and we hope Syria as well, how can Bahrain retain its medieval system of absolute rule, which makes any concessions granted as a result of Bassiouni’s work meaningless and reversible at the whim of the al-Khalifas?

In this age of Facebook, Twitter and blogs, its the task of every one of us to wake up the media, governments and trade unions to the risks being incurred, not just in Bahrain itself, but in the Gulf as a whole, if fundamental reforms of governance are not set in train. Lets mobilise, to do whatever we can, to secure for the people of Bahrain the freedoms we ourselves enjoy

Medicine sans Frontiers (Doctors without borders): I would like to give a small update on our activities at the invitation of Lord Avebury. I would like to start off by saying that MSF is an independent, medical humanitarian organisation. We are not a human rights organisation. We have been in Bahrain since March providing medical care to any person in need, as we have been doing in other countries in the world.

            We found it quite difficult to register in Bahrain although the Ministry of Health has been informed of our presence there. Now we are on standby because we still have to receive the registration.

            The most important event during our time in Bahrain was on July 22nd.  Our offices were raided. It was a very violent raid with doors forced open. Our driver and translator has been arrested. He has  subsequently been released but his case if pending. So currently our registration in Bahrain is in the hands of the authorities.

Lord Avebury: This is a purely humanitarian organisation treating some of the victims of the regime and that is what happens. There offices are raided, their employees are arrested and medical equipment is stolen from them. I think this is an indication of the way the regime behaves in relation to a humanitarian organisation.


Mohammeed Mattar, independent Bahraini Human Rights Activist

Legitimizing the Ruling Family in Bahrain .. Transformations, attempts, and scams

Since the beginning of the influx of Al-Khalifa tribe to the islands of Awal (Bahrain) to establish their Shaikhdom in 1782 (by the power of sword, which they called a conquest!) until 1971 the tribe had not gotten any political legitimacy or public acceptance to take over the governance and resources of the State, except that the tribe was protected by the exclusive conventions concluded with Britain in the years 1820,1847, 1856, 1861,1880, 1892, imposed through a series of obligations on the Shaikhdom. In return Britain promised to protect them against external aggression on their land, maintain the autonomy of their entity, maintain their political and economic interests, protect the interests of their citizens in the abscess, and to conduct their foreign affairs. During this phase the ruling family expropriated people’s properties, lands, and lives. They undertook in plundering, looting everything under their ascendancy, and subjecting people to a system of forced labour under the mentality of booty and subjects, which the tribe has pursued!

After signing the documents that ended the earlier treaties, on the morning of August 14, 1971 Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, Chairman of the Council of State – who became prime minister – read the Declaration of Independence and the policy of the new state on behalf of his brother Isa, Ruler of Bahrain who became Emir under the announcement of the independence. That was in the presence of Crown Prince Hamad bin Isa the commander of the Bahrain Defence Force.

The Emir intended to establish a political legitimacy based on the popular will, especially since independence was built on the referendum conducted by the good offices mission mandated by the United Nations on March 20, 1970 under the chairmanship of the Personal Representative of the Secretary-General Mr Vittorio Winspeare Guicciardi who questioned the people of Bahrain about the allegations of the Shah in the dependency of Bahrain to Iran. The Commission concluded and stated in their report, which was escalated to the Secretary-General, that “the overwhelming majority of the people of Bahrain wish to gain recognition of their identity in a fully independent and sovereign State free to decide for itself its relations with other States “. Consequently the Security Council decided in its meeting No. (1536) May 11, 1970 by unanimous vote on the resolution (278), which welcomed the conclusions and findings of the Personal Representative of the Secretary-General.

In December 16, 1971 Emir Isa bin Salman announced in an official statement the draft of a modern contemporary constitution for the country that ensures applying the principles of peaceful democracy. To implement that statement, a constituent assembly was established by (22) elected representatives, (8) appointed by the Emir, and (12) ministers representing their positions. The assembly held its first meeting on December 16, 1972 and ended on June 9, 1973. The draft of the Constitution was approved by the Emir and ratified without any reservations on December 6, 1973. The constitution stated in Article II, ” The rule of Bahrain shall be hereditary, the succession to which shall be transmitted from His Highness Shaikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa to his eldest son and then to the eldest son of this eldest son and so forth, generation after generation, unless during his lifetime, the Amir appoints one of his sons other than the eldest as his successor (…)”, in Article IV ” The system of government in Bahrain is democratic, under which sovereignty lies with the people, the source of all powers. (…)”.

In the December 7, 1973 elections were conducted for the National Council (Legislative Authority), upon that a new cabinet was formed on December 15 from 14 ministers, half of them are members of the ruling family. The cabinet was headed by Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa. The first meeting of the National Council was held on December 16, 1973. By that, the Shaikhdom was framed in a constitutional consensus that allowed a reasonable margin of people’s role in legislation, supervision and management of the state. That did not last long as the Emir issued a decree on August 26, 1975 to dissolve the National Council, suspend the parliamentary constitutional articles, and assign the legislative power to the cabinet along with the Emir himself. 

This subversion on the Constitution dropped the political legitimacy of the Emir and the cabinet that was headed by his brother Khalifa bin Salman. To impose government’s control and dominance – which is out of the supervision of the dissolved parliament – the Emir issued in October 22, 1975 a decree-law on State Security, an emergency law grants the Minister of Interior wide powers and security authorities opposing the principles of the constitution!

On March 6, 1999 Hamad bin Isa came to power, succeeding his late father. The new Emir was aware of the cumulative magnitude of the crisis and desired to impose his political legitimacy and assure his inherited rule.

In December 16, 2000 the Emir announced in a televised speech the launch of the (National Action Charter) project, which he described as (the Compact) and (Allegiance renewal).

The Charter came in seven chapters similar to the provisions stated in the Constitution of 1973 as paths for national action, the most important and serious part was in Chapter VII (Outlook) section which identified that the activation of the basic ideas contained in the charter requires some constitutional amendments:

First – The Name of the State of Bahrain

An amendment of the constitution shall determine the official name of the state of Bahrain as may be adopted by the Amir and the people of Bahrain.

Second – The Legislature

The provisions of part 4 Chapter 2 of the constitution on the legislature shall be amended to be consistent with democratic and constitutional developments worldwide in so far as the introduction of bicameral system is concerned. This would mean that one chamber is constituted through free, direct elections whose mandate will be to enact laws while a second one would have people with experience and expertise who would give advice as necessary. Laws shall be enacted as prescribed in detail by the constitution and in congruence with constitutional norms and traditions followed in deep-rooted democracies.

Given the ambiguity surrounding the interpretation of the Charter, the mechanism of activation, and the system of two chambers, politicians and lawyers called for clarification of those ambiguities. Upon that, Minister of Justice, and Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Charter Abdullah bin Khalid Al-Khalifa stated in a recoded television statement (published in the local newspapers the next day) that the legislative powers are enclosed in the elected chamber, where the appointed chamber is to give advice only.

As an initiative, the Emir Hamad visited Mr Alawi Al-Ghuraifi (a religious leader) who reviewed a list of demands: the governance of the Constitution over the Charter, not to prejudice the constitutional constants, full legislative powers of the elected chamber, immediate start of progress to apply the Charter after being ratified, and serious intention to accelerate activating the Constitution. The Emir has signed in handwriting on the list of demands presented by Al-Ghuraifi.

Despite the controversy that has prevailed about the credibility of the project, the anxiety about what is required in the (Outlook) section , and the ambiguity of the mechanism of implementation, people had voted in 14th and 15th of February 2001 (yes to the Charter) by pro-98.4% and with a participation rate reached 90.3%.

A political spring began in Bahrain repealing State Security law and State Security court on February 18, 2001, continued until February 14, 2002, when Emir Hamad bin Isa announced himself as King due to the new constitution he publicized, which grants him – as a King – wide and absolute powers. This minimized people’s powers and breached all commitments and declarations made before voting for the (National Action Charter).

New and previous authorities of the King reinforced autocracy and monopoly by the King who is the Head of State and his person is inviolate, the Head Supreme Defence Council and appoints its members, the Head of Supreme Judicial Council and appoints judges, appoints the Prime Minister and Ministers, appoints the Head and half of the National Council (Legislative Authority) members, orders elections of the other half, determines the distribution of electoral districts by decree, calls the National Council to meet by a royal order, has the right to dissolve the elected chamber, also has the right to issue decree-laws in the absence of the National Council (Legislative Authority), declares state of  national safety or martial law, appoint civil and military officials and diplomatic representatives to foreign countries and international bodies, appoints the Head of the Financial Control Office and his deputies, and several other powers.

On this basis, the Ruling Family in Bahrain lacks political legitimacy and they are aware of that, as the political legitimacy is granted by the people to the governors not the contrary, where people are the source of powers and authorities.

Any governor who imposes his authority on people by force of armed mercenaries and the military, clearly knows about the lack of his acceptability among people and aware of the absence of political legitimacy, especially since the Ruling Family has turned on the only two documents which granted them political legitimacy, the Constitution of 1973 and the National Action Charter, 2001. 

Therefore, the Ruling Family fears popular pro-democracy movements whose relationship with the Khalifas is based on a lack of trust and the absence of allegiance, thus breaking the equation of the Shaikhdom and subjects which the ruling family is pursuing.

Lord Avebury: Thank you very much for an outline of recent history and the powers of the royal family which underline the fact that you have an absolute monarchy here. It is not a constitutional monarchy in spite of the fact that some of the forms of a constitutional monarchy were developed to  provide a smoke screen for the exercise of absolute power. We have heard what the kings powers are: appointment of all the ministers, ambassadors, judges. There is no limit to the exercise of his power. We are right at the beginning of the process of political reform  in Bahrain  irrespective of the Bassouni commissions work which will be completed in October.

Saeed Shehabi: Mohammed Tajir has spoken to us before. He was a lawyer defending the cases of the prisoners for many years and because of his stand in defense of those victims he was taken into custody in April or late March and severely tortured and after a lot of pressure from the outside he was released.  He spoke to us here last year and he spoke to us in the House of Commons earlier.

[Phone call to Mohammed Al Tajir]

Mohammed Al Tajir: First of all I would like to thank everybody especially Lord Avebury who has been following my case since last March. I was detained on 16th April when round 20 masked policemen came to my house and arrested me. During this time it was midnight, they seized most of the computers and hard discs from my office.

            It was not clear what I was charged with. There were no charges but they detained me because of role in defending the other detainees. I was in Pearl Roundabout and made a speech on 20th February asking the government to free the political detainees.  They said in this speech I had incited against the regime and I spread rumours about Bahrain and issued a false report which tarnished the reputation of Bahrain outside.

            When I went back to this speech I saw that most of what I had said was about the detainees and about torture and whatever I said was what I seen practically. I was tortured continuously for three weeks, even after the interrogation was completed. I was kept in solitary confinement for almost two months. Then they sent me to the military court on June 12th. The court issued a judgement against me. Decree No 62 was issued saying that all the papers should be sent to a civil court. Since then nothing has happened. They released me on August 2nd. Still I am suffering because of the detention.  I have had an experience of what happened to the detainees who I had been defending.

Saeed Shehabi: I think most of you have heard the testimony of Mohammed Tajir who was in solitary confinement for at least three weeks and he was taken to the military court  which was stopped. Now they have reactivated the military court and the medical staff  will go back to the military court. He said that his experience in jail has let him experience what his clients experienced. He affirmed that the only cause for his arrest was his defense of others in the court.  Lord Avebury would like to ask you a question and hail your courage.

Lord Avebury: I am really impressed with your firmness against the repression of the regime and I would like to ask you whether you had the opportunity to discuss these matters with Sherif Bassouni?

Mohammed Tajir: Since I was released until now we could not reach Mr Bassouni and the other committee because I believe they have mission  they have to accomplish. They are facing a lot of difficulties concerning the testimonies. I tried to reach them by email. Even my wife who  was out of work for six months and there are rumours that she has been sacked. I tried to reach him to give him our reports and still we don’t have any appointment.

Saeed Shehabi: After you were taken out of solitary confinement did you see others being tortured? What was your experience? Apart from the torture on  yourself what did you see?

Mohammed Tajir: Four days after the detention in Atlia jail I was sent to another jail which was managed by military intelligence. It belongs to the Bahraini defence forces. In that jail it was clear  my neighbours  were Abdul Hadi Al Khawaja,  Mahdi Abu Dib, Mohammed Al Alawai, Sheikh Abdul Jalil Al Mukhtad, Abdul Singace, Hassan Mushaima and Abdul Wahab. I only saw them the week before my release in the first week of Ramadan.  I could hear during  any rest Abdul Hadi Al Khawaja, Madhi Abu Dib being tortured. I could see torture on Mahdi Abu Dib and Mohammed Habib. When I met them on the way to court. We went in one bus. There were eight charges against him. So every day when we went we saw him in the bus. The signs of torture were in his neck. We could see this without removing his clothes.

The most horrible thing was when Abdul Hadi Al Khawaja was tortured and he was never my prison. My cell was the first cell in the prison. His cell was the third one.

Question: I would like to ask you about the king’s son torturing our prisoners in Bahrain? Are you aware of the role of any senior family members in torture?

Mohammed Tajir:  When they were torturing us they were threatening us they would get orders from the sheikh to send us to Saudi Arabia or hang us.

Question: When you were in prison were there any signs of non Bahraini officers involved in  interrogation, Saudis, Jordanians or Iraqis.

Mohammed Tajir: I can confirm Syrians, Yemenis and Pakistanis, Indians Jordanians. I can’t confirm Iraqis.

Question: Were you blindfolded?

Mohammed Tajir: I was blindfolded during the three weeks. I could see any of my colleagues but I could hear them being tortured.  After  our time in solitary confinement we confirmed what had happened to each of us.

Lord Avebury: I want to ask if the International Bar Association or any other organisation of international lawyers has taken up your case or has been in touch to find out what happened to you.

Mohammed Tajir: I would like to thank you personally for your efforts during my imprisonment. Moreover I would like to thank  my friend and colleage  P. H. Weatherby in the Human Rights Commission. I would like to thank my friend Joshea Angelo from the New York Bar Association which played a big role in my release and followed my case with my wife. Really their efforts helped to get me released from prison. I asked if they were able to come to Bahrain to document what is happening to us. Joshea said that since May he has been trying to come to Bahrain but he could not. Most human rights groups are facing difficulties in coming to Bahrain. Even news reporters are having difficulty.

Saeed Shehabi: Thank you very much Mohammed. Everybody sends his regard to you and we hope that everybody will get their due right of being listened to and their grievances being addressed.

Mohammed Tajir: Thank you, lastly I would like to thank human rights groups like Amnesty International, Lawyers for Lawyers and news reporters who are writing about Bahrain.

Saeed Shehabi: We will talk to Ayat Al Khurmsi the poet whose picture was on the front page of the Independent some two months ago. She is going to speak to us for a few minutes.

Skype call to Ayat Al Khurmsi:

Ayat Al Khurmsi: Before the revolution I had no major in the country but after that I thought and I felt that I have to do something. I  felt that I had to take a stand when I saw that the blood of my people was being shed without mercy. I  have the ability to write. That is why I tried to translate the feelings and the grievances of the people in the form of poetry. I wrote a poem that I recited at Pearl Roundabout. That was the reason for my arrest and psychological and physical abuse and torture.

            But despite their attempts to try and stop and torture me I tried my best to hide my tears from the jailers. I did not want them to see me breaking down. I wanted them to see me steadfast and un yielding under their pressure. But the pain was so much that no mind or body can withstand this.

            Once they started to torture me I tried not to cry or to weep so that they don’t become happy. I did not want them to feel happy because of my  pain. I was forced to sign a false statement. The pen was put between my hands and I was in the peak of pain. In the peak of pain and fear I was forced to sign the statement and the pack of wolves who had no mercy in their minds and hearts were surrounding me. I was between life and death in that period so I signed whatever they prepared.

            I wanted to cry, I wanted to shout, I wanted to make a real outcry which was really repressed inside me but I tried  my best not to let that outcry come out in case it made them happy. I wanted to translate my feelings in cultural and literary ways but I was not able to do so. Somebody wrote a poem about me and I would like to know who wrote that because it really reflected my feelings at the time.

            From my own experience I felt that poetry and the word itself breaks the back of the tyrants and really defeats their tyranny.  This is why they wanted to jail Ayat Al Khurmsi and they put me in jail in order  not to speak about what they were doing to the people of Bahrain.

            I will never forget my own experience and it is still dominating my mind and my soul. I tried to forget some of the details however my experience at the hands of Noura Al Khalifa one of the members of the ruling family who had herself tortured me was  unforgettable. I will never forget this. It is an attempt to dissociate a human being from his humanity.

            The jailers wanted me to break down and deprived me of my basic rights. They deprived me of sleep. They used a lot of physical and mental torture on me and I did not expect  sadistic behaviour to such a level among human beings. It was professional sadism.

            After this experience I feel that I have been reborn and I realise how strong  the spoken word is in the fact of the torturers and those who use lashed and beat their victims. That is why all the prisoners are  prisoners of conscience. They have been jailed for their opinions and have been subjected to all kinds of torture both physical and mental.

            In the end I would like to convey what we are suffering at the moment in terms of aggression, repression and injustice and I hope there will be a dawn that will not be far away which will take us away from despotism and injustice.

Question: Have you see women in jail with you, what were the methods of torture used against them and do you have a message to the outside world?

Saeed Shehabi: I would like to say before she answers that I have her personal testimony and it really makes you wonder if you are living in the 20th century.  The way this young woman was treated is pure evil. The physical, mental and psychological pressure that was inflicted on her. I thought she would have died by now.   It is a three or four page testimony but it really makes your hair stand on end.

Ayat Al Khurmsi: I was  kept in solitary confinement for 16 days. I did not see anybody during that time. After that time she saw most of the women in jail. When they brought them after each period of torture when  they brought them back to the cells their bodies were blackened due to the beatings and hanging. The torture is systematic and that is what the regime wants to hide. They say it is just undertaken by unruly individuals. That is why they would  pick up two or three Indian policemen and take them to court and say they are responsible. But that is not the truth. Torture has always been systematic and this time it has been administered by senior figures from the ruling family. All the centres use the same methods of torture. My message  is for the outside world to apply more pressure so that all the detainees, men and women, are freed.

Lord Avebury: Have  she reported any of this to the Bassouni commission?

 Ayat Al Khurmsi: Yes I did.

Saeed Shehabi:  Did you ever feel despair when you were behind bars?

Ayat Al Khurmsi: I went inside and I was in opposition and I came out and I was more serious in opposition. More of an opponent.

Question: Are you still receiving threats and intimidation after you have been released?

Ayat Al Khurmsi: Yes the threats and the intimidation continue unabated and moreover. There have been several  on me in the media and one writer said she was disappointed that I had been released and it was an injustice for me to be released. If she saw me she would be sure to cut my tongue.

Saeed Shehabi: When someone says that it is not just an utterance. It has been known that if the government sites mention that somebody would be arrested they will be arrested. This happened to the American human rights officer. He saw his name published on the site of those pro government militias and after two or three days he packed his bags and left. He is the man in charge of the human rights file in Bahrain. He knows that whatever is mentioned is implemented. I think we have to thank Ayat once again and wish her a successful life and I am sure that the steadfastness of people like her are an inspiration for us all and for those who are seeking justice and who are also attempting to change their situation. Thank you very much.

John Lubbock, Bahrain Centre for Human Rights: Current situation: There have been a raft of releases of political prisoners in recent weeks. The most prominent of the released prisoners were the two Wefaq MPs, Mattar Mattar and Jawad Fairooz, released along with over a hundred other protesters.However, the detainees who remain in prison are symbolic of the practice of punishing those most heavily who are most problematic for the government. Hassan Mushaima, Abduljalil Al-Singace, Ebrahim Sharif, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja; some of the most prominent and well respected opposition and human rights leaders who remain in prison. Keeping them in jail makes real dialogue impossible. Perhaps the government thinks that without these more outspoken agents at work, they will have a stronger negotiating position with the more moderate elements of the opposition, but this is not happening. The strategy seems to be to vindictively punish those who speak out most strongly, or if those people are not in Bahrain, to punish close family members instead.But there are still others in detention who are not such prominent political figures and should not be forgotten.Scholars at Risk (SAR) is gravely concerned about Professor Masaud Jahromi, Chairman of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at Ahlia University, Manama, Bahrain, who has been arrested and detained for four months.Rula Al-Saffar and Jalila Al-Salman, two of the most prominent political prisoners in Bahrain who had been on hunger strike against their detention, were freed a day after a visit from the BICI. However, the cases against them have not been dropped and will resume at a military court next month. This shows that the Bahrain government will only go as far as they are pushed by humanitarian standards in terms of the way they treat political prisoners.Rather than making dialogue easier for the regime because they only have to deal with the more moderate opposition, this kind of selective punishment actually has the opposite effect. By removing the more radical opposition, it pushes the more moderate opposition away from dialogue, as we can see with Wefaq’s refusal to take part in elections. This move is possibly to regain some authority lost by the perception of their willingness to compromise with the regime. The power struggle in the Khalifa family seems also to have been won by the more radical elements. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to know where negotiations can start from. As we have learned from political reconciliation in places like Northern Ireland, it is very important to bring the opposition into the political process. Disenfranchisement can only lead to more unrest if people feel that they are not being listened to and their political views are not represented in the political process. Bahrain has a strong civil society and different kinds of opposition parties, and these could be incorporated into a strong democratic foundation with the creation of an independent judiciary, the removal of sectarian barriers to entry in the security services and in government ministries, and a reform of electoral practices. The Al-Khalifa family is itself split into different factions, which seem to be pulling apart the cohesion of what is essentially an aristocratic oligarchy. If certain factions in this power system were to realise that democratic reform would actually provide a stable mechanism to deal with this power diffusion, they would be more likely to consider compromise. But it is difficult to see this happening in the near future with the continual


Consultative Status – CIHRS advises that it will initially be very difficult to gain consultative status because the big power players such as the US, UK and France are likely to block the application

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