Monday 25 June 2018

The Bahrain Political Stand-off, Where is It Headed To?

Written by Sondoss Al Asaad, American Herald Tribune.

One year has passed after 5 youth were murdered and hundreds were severely injured during the Bahraini authority’s violent crackdown on the peaceful sit-in; set in solidarity with the spiritual leader; Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim. During the deadly raid, on 23 May 2017, hundreds of armoured vehicles and personnel carriers encircled the village of Duraz, firing lethal birdshot ammunitions and teargas canisters.

Al Jazeera English/ flickr

Seven Years of Clampdown

Indeed, Bahrain has long been systematically persecuting the Shiite; violating their right to the freedom of worship and practising religious rituals. Besides, it has been crushing all those who dare speak out against its marginalising and tyrannical policies, since the unrest eruption in 2011, having the full support by the American and British governments.

The government has long prompted its fake scenario; claiming that the national peaceful uprising stimulates an alleged Sunnis and Shiites conflict. However, it seeks social and political reforms. After 7 consecutive years, the government have been sharpening its clampdown on all forms of dissent and freedom of expression and association. It dissolved the main opposition groups, banned independent newspapers and imprisoned political activists and dissidents after trying them in military courts on fabricated charges.

Sheikh Ali Salman Arbitrary Arrest

On 17 July 2016, the Bahrain government dissolved the main opposition block; Al-Wefaq. Its Secretary General Sheikh Ali Salman, a senior Bahraini Shiite cleric, has been in prison on a nine-year jail sentence since late 2014, convicted merely for demanding the establishment of a democratic state, in which citizens enjoy equal rights and duties.

On 28 December 2018, Sheikh Salman completes a four-year. He is imprisoned along with the other opposition figures, who are almost sentenced to life imprisonment, under harsh conditions of detention. Sheikh Salman believes that dialogue is the ideal solution and has continually condemned violence and recommended peaceful demonstrations. Moreover, he emphasises on the people’s participation, affirmed under the international conventions and the Bahraini Constitution.

During his trial, which lacked standards of a fair trial, he made a pleading in which he expressed,

“The reason behind my imprisonment is that I call for the natural right to freedom, equality, justice, and democracy. I demand a human order in which all Bahrainis live honourably, feel their value as free equal citizens and secure the future of their children.”

The Public Prosecutor's Office charged Sheikh Salman for communicating with Qatar, in November 2017. The charge was released after the emergence of the Qatar-Gulf crisis in June 2017. Actually, the accusations against Sheikh Salman are based on his well-known telephone call with the Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim, which is integrated to the US initiative, in March 2011, to resolve the Bahraini crisis.

Ten hearings have passed before the court and the final verdict is due to be issued on 21 June 2018. Sheikh Salman remains behind bars although his defence team has presented exculpatory evidence before the court, which affirms that the call has been clipped, fragmented and manipulated by the authorities.

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Targeting Human Rights’ Activists

International mainstream media have chosen to disregard the escalating human rights violations and the systematic policy against the dissents, in Bahrain. Without a doubt, the suppression aims at eliminating the peaceful movement, which demands the transition towards democracy and the end of tyranny and discrimination.

Many activists have sought political asylum since the government does not respect its international obligations. They have long expressed their willingness for dialogue without preconditions to resolve the crisis but the regime has not shown any sincere intentions, having got a full support from foreign powers.

The detained prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab and the president of ‘Bahrain Centre for Human Rights’ has been condemned recently for a 5-year jail term. Despite the tireless international and human rights appeals to an immediate and unconditional release of Rajab and hundreds of prisoners of conscience, the government continues to turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to his issue.

Lately, the council of Paris has granted Rajab an honorary citizen title. Its mayor said that this title aims at shedding the light on his situation due to authorities’ lack of respect for freedom of expression. The European Union too has called for Rajab's release due to deterioration of his health. The EU stated,

“Once again, the European Union expects all parties in Bahrain to engage in a genuine dialogue with a view to re-launching a process of national reconciliation in a peaceful and constructive manner.”

The Bahrain Declaration

In the early June, Al-Wefaq, opposition political bloc, proposed an initiative entitled the “The Bahrain Declaration.” The democracy-based proposal includes Al-Wefaq’s political framework to resolve the political crisis in Bahrain. The Declaration’s basic principles meet the international charters, treaties and universal human values. It rebukes all sorts of dominance or competitiveness and stresses a keenness to preserve Bahrain and the interests of its people.

Al-Wefaq has expounded that only the dialogue and negotiation approach would lead to national consensus. It emphasises its commitment to national reconciliation, peaceful option and preserving the interests of all Bahrainis. The Declaration, further, urges the government to establish an effective dialogue table to save Bahrain from the escalation of the political, economic, legal and social crises.

Indeed, the Declaration consists of 13 universal human principles that uphold moderation, stability and public participation. Al-Wefaq concludes asserting its pledge to establish a state of law, which represents and meets the aspirations of all citizens. Bahrainis desire to have a politically, economically and socially advanced state, which maintains equality, pluralism and liberties and promotes competence, professionalism and competitiveness.

Spiritual Leader Ayatollah Qassim Case

Embed from Getty Images

Meanwhile, the security forces continue to enforce a ban on the central Friday prayers at Imam Al Sadiq Mosque in Duraz, which used to host Bahrain’s Shiite congregation. Duraz’s residents, the hometown of Bahrain’s highest religious authority Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim and prominent dissents have been subjected to an unprecedented lockdown by the security forces.

Ayatollah Qassim was arbitrarily denaturalized in June 2016, over allegations of money laundering related to the Khums religious practice and fuelling extremism. As far as Shiite Muslims are concerned, khums is to donate a fifth of their yearly profits to their leader who in turn distributes it to the needy.

The revocation of Ayatollah Qassim’s citizenship and subjecting him to house-arrest was widely dismissed as politically motivated. The 80-year-old ailing cleric was deprived of adequate medical care, which led to numerous health complications. His health has dramatically deteriorated since security forces stormed his home in Duraz, killed five, and arrested around 300 demonstrators, in May 2017.

Democratic, Social and Economic Turmoil

Bahrain witnesses a drastic problem regarding the systematic demographic change; planned by the government through the extensive naturalisation policy and the revocation of the indigenous people citizenships. Unequivocally, the demographic conspiracy, adopted by the government in Bahrain, seems more like the Zionist project against the Palestinians in the occupied lands.

Bahrain was repeatedly commended to abolish the death penalty, to accede to the Second Optional Protocol to the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights for the abolition of the death penalty; to open an independent investigation into all complaints of torture and ill-treatment and to ratify the Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary adopted by the United Nations in 1985, however nothing significantly has been done.

The sectarian racism policy of citizenship revocations and deportations has no legal basis and reflects the regime’s retaliatory oppression against the popular movement. Since 2011, around 600 Bahraini citizens have had their citizenship revoked; most of them are rendered stateless. Amid the silence of the international community, on 15 January 2017, death penalties were resumed when 3 youth were executed.

Besides, the constitution was amended in April 2017 permitting to try dissidents in military courts. These courts rely on the defendants’ coerced confessions and on testimonies of anonymous witnesses. On 31 January 2018, a military court sentenced two people to death and issued lengthy prison sentences against nearly all 60 defendants on terrorism charges; 36 of were tried while in custody and the remaining 24 were tried in absentia.

Various demonstrations are held in Bahrain on an almost daily basis ever since a popular uprising began in the country in mid-February 2011. These demonstrations call to relinquish the regime’s power and to elect a just system that represents all Bahrainis. Indeed, the public uprising and peaceful demonstrations would not stop, as the oppressed and persecuted Bahraini people are adamant to achieve their legitimate demands.

Sondoss Al Asaad is a Lebanese freelance journalist and translator; based in Beirut, Lebanon. Al Asaad writes on issues of the Arabs and Muslims world, with a special focus on the situation in Yemen and Bahrain. This article was originally published on American Herald Tribune.
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