MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, Sep 26 (IPS) – Maryam al-Khawaja’s journey dwelling ended earlier than it had begun: British Airways employees stopped her boarding her flight on the request of Bahraini immigration authorities. Maryam was no common passenger: her father is veteran human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, in jail in Bahrain for 12 years and counting.
Abdulhadi was sentenced to life in jail on bogus terrorism fees for his function in 2011 democracy protests, a part of the ‘Arab Spring’ regional wave of mobilisations. His well being, weakened as a consequence of denial of medical care, has additional declined as he joined different political prisoners in a starvation strike demanding enhancements in jail circumstances.
Rising from the unlikeliest place – a jail designed to interrupt wills and destroy the need for freedom – this starvation strike has turn into the largest organised protest Bahrain has seen in years.
Maryam has 4 judicial instances pending in Bahrain however was able to spend years in jail if this was what it took to avoid wasting her father’s life. That is removed from Abdulhadi’s first starvation strike, however his household warns that his fragile well being means it may very well be his final. In denying Maryam the prospect to see her father, the Bahraini regime has reacted as those that rule by concern usually do: in concern of those that aren’t afraid of them.
A jail state
The Bahraini cracked down severely on the 2011 protests, unleashing murderous safety drive violence to clear protest websites, arresting scores of protesters, activists and opposition leaders, subjecting them to mass trials and stripping tons of of citizenship. It sentenced 51 folks to dying and has executed six, whereas 26 wait on dying row having exhausted their appeals. Most have been convicted on the premise of confessions obtained by means of torture.
Lots of these arrested within the 2011 protests and subsequent crackdown stay behind bars. In keeping with estimates from the Bahrain Middle for Human Rights, over the previous decade the federal government has arrested virtually 15,000 folks for his or her political beliefs, and between 1,200 and 1,400 are nonetheless jailed, principally in Jau jail in Manama, the capital. Abdulhadi is one in all many.
On 7 August, Jau’s political prisoners went on starvation strike. Their calls for embrace an finish to solitary confinement, extra time exterior cells – presently they’re solely allowed out for an hour a day, permission to carry prayers in congregation, amended visitation guidelines and entry to sufficient medical care and training. Over the next weeks the numbers collaborating grew to greater than 800. Their households took to the streets to demand their launch.
On 31 August, the political prisoners prolonged their protest after rejecting the federal government’s provide of solely minor enhancements.
On 11 September, a two-week suspension of the strike was introduced to permit the federal government to fulfil guarantees to enhance circumstances, together with ending isolation for some prisoners. It appeared clear the federal government had shifted place to keep away from embarrassment as Bahrain’s Crown Prince and Prime Minister Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa ready to fulfill US President Joe Biden.
Abdulhadi, nonetheless, quickly resumed his starvation strike after being denied entry to a scheduled medical appointment, solely to suspend it just a few days later when he was promised enhancements in circumstances, together with a heart specialist appointment. However the subsequent day it turned obvious that these have been all lies, and he resumed his starvation strike. It felt, as Maryam put it, ‘like psychological warfare and an try to kill solidarity’.
Worldwide solidarity urgently wanted
In her try to return to Bahrain, Maryam obtained sturdy worldwide assist. A number of Bahraini, regional and worldwide civil society teams backed a joint letter urging European Union authorities to name for the instant and unconditional launch of all Bahrain’s political prisoners. An identical letter was despatched to the UK authorities.
In late 2022, backlash from human rights organisations pressured Bahrain to withdraw its candidacy for a UN Human Rights Council seat. And earlier this 12 months, throughout the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s world meeting in Bahrain, which the regime sought to make use of for whitewashing functions, parliamentarians referred to as on Bahrain to launch Abdulhadi and ship him to Denmark for medical therapy.
However whereas Bahrain’s political prisoners have many allies, some highly effective voices aren’t amongst them.
Bahrain’s international allies embrace not solely repressive autocracies similar to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates but in addition democratic states, notably the UK and the USA, which clearly worth stability and safety way more extremely than democracy and human rights.
Following Bahrain’s independence in 1971, the UK has continued to again the establishments it established – and has pretended to see progress in the direction of democratic reform. In July, Bahrain’s Crown Prince made an official go to to the UK, the place he met Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and signed a ‘Strategic Funding and Collaboration Partnership’ between the 2 international locations. This included a US$1 billion funding deal within the UK. Barely a month earlier than the beginning of the starvation strike, Sunak welcomed ‘progress on home reforms in Bahrain, notably in relation to the judiciary and authorized course of’.
For the USA, Bahrain has been a ‘main non-NATO ally‘ since 2002 and a ‘main safety accomplice’ since 2021. Bahrain was the primary state within the area to be accorded main non-NATO ally standing, the primary to host a serious US army base and the primary, in 2006, to signal a free commerce settlement with the USA. The US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, one in all seven all over the world, is stationed there, and the nation hosts the headquarters of the US Naval Forces Central Command.
On 13 September, the Crown Prince visited Washington DC and signed a ‘Complete Safety Integration and Prosperity Settlement’ meant to scale up army and financial cooperation with the USA.
Solely within the final paragraph of its pages-long announcement, meticulously detailed in each different respect, did the White Home briefly acknowledge that human rights have been an merchandise of dialogue. Nothing was mentioned concerning the content material or end result of these alleged conversations.
The USA has been repeatedly chastised for a ‘selective defence of democracy‘. President Biden promised a international coverage centred round human rights, however that rings hole in Bahrain. It’s excessive time the USA, the UK and different democratic states use the various levers at their disposal to induce the Bahraini authorities to free its hundreds of political prisoners and transfer in the direction of actual democratic reform.
Inés M. Pousadela is CIVICUS Senior Analysis Specialist, co-director and author for CIVICUS Lens and co-author of the State of Civil Society Report.
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