Bahrain continues crackdown on Shi’ite opposition

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“None of our clients has been given the chance to contact their relatives or to meet them,” Mohammed Ahmad, one of the attorneys for Mr. al-Singace and the other defendants, told the Times. “These people have been totally denied every single right given to them under the constitution.”

Jenan Al Oraibi, whose husband, Ali Abdulemam — founder of Bahrain Online, the country’s wildly popular web forum — was arrested last Saturday and charged with “spreading false information,” has taken refuge at her father’s house with her 4-year-son and 8-month-old twin daughters.

“Every time my son sees me crying, he will ask me, ‘Why are you crying? What happened? Where’s my father?’” Ms. Oraibi told The Times. “All I can say to him is that ‘your father is traveling and he will be back soon.’ Sometimes, I see him quiet, and I know that he wishes to go back to our flat, to stay in his room, to play with his toys. It’s a very difficult situation.”

Mr. Abdulemam has been arrested before, in 2005, but Ms. Oraibi said that experience was completely different.

“He gave us a call, they allowed us to see him, we were sure they weren’t going to torture him,” she said. “And now it’s a totally different thing. I don’t know anything about Ali other than what I read in the newspapers — and I don’t know if I can trust any of it because it’s coming from the government.”

The Bahraini Embassy did not respond to repeated calls seeking comment. But Jamal Fakhro, first deputy chairman of the government-appointed Shura Council, Bahrain’s upper legislative body, claimed that authorities are allowing doctors to investigate torture allegations and expressed confidence that all laws were being followed.

Human rights activists from multiple organizations, however, told The Times that the detentions — and the alleged maltreatement of the detainees — are only part of the story.

“We’ve also documented a number of instances of what we call ‘kidnappings,’” said Maryam al-Khawaja of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. “These are cases where security forces go take someone from the street, blindfold them, take them somewhere unknown, take pictures of them naked which they threaten them with, threaten them with sexual assault, sometimes actually sexually assault them, beat them up severely, and then haul them back on the street half-naked.”

“Human rights activists have to live in continuous fear because we know we’re being targeted by the government,” said Ms. al-Khawaja, who fled to London in recent weeks. “You’d find that the activists are awake until 3:15 or 3:30 in the morning because they’re just sitting there waiting to see whether it’s the night that they’re going to get arrested.

“When I was in Bahrain,” she added, “I would always make sure to lock the door when I got into the car so just in case they came to get me, I would have time to make one last phone call.”

Last week, Abdullah al-Derazi, president of the Bahrain Human Rights Society — which, unlike the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, enjoys government sanction — was fired and replaced by a government-friendly administrator. He told The Times that his group, whose board was also dissolved, is suing the government.

Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division, decried the government campaign against Mr. Rajab, Mr. al-Derazi, and other human rights activists. Noting that his organization released a report earlier this year on torture by Bahrain’s security services, he said that “unfortunately, we find the [torture] allegations all too credible.”

For Mr. Stork, whose division covers 17 countries over an area spanning from Morocco to Iran, there is a tragic irony to the current situation. He said that after the 1999 ascension of the current king, Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifah, “Bahrain was a leader in the region in undertaking serious, substantive reforms on human rights.”

“When we released our report in February in Manama,” he recalled, “one of the first things I said at the press conference was, ‘I want to be clear: We’re not saying it’s the bad old days in Bahrain. There’s a world of difference.’ I think if I were having a public meeting in Bahrain today, I’d have to say it’s getting pretty close to the bad old days.”

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author

Ben Birnbaum

Ben Birnbaum is a reporter covering foreign affairs for The Washington Times. Prior to joining The Times, Birnbaum worked as a reporter-researcher at the New Republic. A Boston-area native, he graduated magna cum laude from Cornell University with a degree in government and psychology. He won multiple collegiate journalism awards for his articles and columns in the Cornell Daily Sun.

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