This morning, just before the F1 race in Bahrain, His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa issued a pledge which got a lot of pre-race attention. In that pledge:
HM the King asserted the government’s commitment toward enhancing consensus and reform in the kingdom, reiterating his personal commitment towards reform and achieving consensus in this great country, adding that the door of dialogue will always remain open for the people of Bahrain.
During the race, when ten women attempted to hold up pictures of human rights defender, Al Khawaja, they were immediately arrested and there is a confirmed report that one was severely beaten. Maryam AlKhawaja of the Bahrain Human Rights Center is reporting:
Grave concern abt women activists arrested at the #F1 race as neither families nor lawyer allowed to c them #bahrain #FEB14 #fia
Right after the race, when foreign journalists attempted to cover reactions in the Bahraini villages, the journalists too were arrested – along with their local “fixers” and drivers. The video up top is an interview with UK Channel 4’s Jonathan Miller, taped as he was being taken into custody. It provides a very clear picture of just how false Al Khalifa’s pledge is.
Ala’a Shehabi, a British born Bahraini academic who has returned to Bahrain to help in the fight for civil rights and who maintains Bahrain Watch which tracks the monarchy’s performance – or lack of – on it’s promises of reform, was arrested as well. She was traveling with journalists at the time.
An interview with her from Friday with the New York Times provides a good overview of the F1 issue and the wider situation in Bahrain. Ms. Shehabi’s husband is jailed for three years for having attended a protest last year.
Her last tweet today reads:
Dr Ala’a Shehabi ? @alaashehabi
Under arrest. Surrounded by
Mohammed Hassan, who was arrested after assisting the Dan Rather Report to cover Bahrain and then released, was arrested today while working with another team of foreign journalists. He was beaten quite severely the first time but today released without another beating. He later tweeted that he would assist any journalist needing help reporting on Bahrain at no charge:
Mohammed ? @safybh
I’m offering my service for free as a way to express my refusal for @moi_Bahrain continuous abuse, tell any jorno in need of help #BAHRAIN
As Channel 4’s Jonathan Miller says in his interview, outside journalists will most likely simply be deported from Bahrain but repercussions for Bahrain citizens who assisted those journalists as well as activists is quite dire. After all, even the monarch’s own “independent” commission last fall reported severe use of torture – for example, see the account of the torture of AlKhawaja from that report here.
Those activists who are not arrested are often seriously injured by the birdshot being used extensively by Bahraini “police” who are mainly mercenary forces from Pakistan. The use of such “birdshot” violates the US “Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.”
And of course the Obama administration has refused to stand up for civil rights in Bahrain. Victoria Nuland of the US State Dept. did make a statement yesterday:
“These are unproductive, unhelpful acts in building the kind of meaningful trust and reconciliation that is needed in Bahrain,” Nuland told reporters. “We’re calling for, again, Bahraini government respect for universal human rights and demonstrators’ restraint in ensuring that they are peaceful.”
Not a word to encourage the release of AlKhawaja who is entering his 75th day of hunger strike and refusing IV liquids nor the release of the others being held and tortured solely because they want basic civil rights.