As 20 of Bahrain’s physicians were being sentenced to prison terms of 5-15 years for treating victims of peaceful demonstrations, the US Government was readying the red bows on a package of $200m in military sales to the tiny Gulf nation.
The arms sale comes less than three months after the US included Bahrain on a list of human rights offenders requiring the United Nations’ attention. According to Al Jazeera, the US Government report showed a $112m rise in sales to Bahrain, much of it involving aircraft and military electronics. The US also licensed $760,000 in exports of rifles, shotguns and assault weapons in 2010. US military exports to Bahrain in 2009 totaled $88m.
Bahrain, a tiny island nation that is home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet, occupies a strategic position in White House priorities. That position is enhanced by Bahrain’s proximity to the oil field of East Saudi Arabia. Saudi troops have been assistant Bahraini authorities in putting down the demonstrations.
Since mid-February, the kingdom has confronted demonstrators with cordons of armed military and police firing live ammunition. At least 31 people have died and hundreds more have been injured in the clashes.
The Kingdom is ruled by a Sunni monarch and his family, while the large majority of the king’s subjects are Shia. The Shia have complained for years of discrimination in employment, housing, health care and the minutiae daily life.
The Crown Prince of Bahrain has visited President Obama and State Department officials recently, complaining he was worried about Bahrain’s “image” for tourism. The country has recently retained the services of two high-profile US-based public relations firms to represent it.
In court proceedings, 20 Bahraini male and female doctors have been sentenced to 5-15 years imprisonment by Military Court for treating injured protesters. The sentenced doctors had been detained for 5 or more months, reportedly tortured, and deprived from access to lawyer and family most of time.
The doctors were working in Salmaniya hospital, frantically trying to save the lives of men, woman and children wounded by government security forces. It has been reliably reported that these forces then closed off the entrance to the hospital and would not let anyone in or out. Wounded patients were removed from their beds and taken to unknown government facilities, where many died.
Reuters reports that the possibility that American-built weapons might have been used against protesters has raised questions in the US Congress and led the department to review its defense trade relationships with several Middle East nations.
The Obama administration has been virtually silent on the subject of Bahrain. It has criticized the use of violence against dissenters by police and military units but has not exacted specific repercussions against Bahrain’s government.
Jeff Abramson, deputy director of the Arms Control Association, told Mother Jones magazine that “the political upheaval across the Middle East has brought to light the problems of providing arms to repressive regimes. The hope is we’ll now begin to see a rethinking of the willingness to do that”.
The new report showed that licensed US defense sales to other Middle East and North African nations caught up in democracy protests remained mostly unchanged.
Maria McFarland of Human Rights Watch told Mother Jones, “This is exactly the wrong move after Bahrain brutally suppressed protests and is carrying out a relentless campaign of retribution against its critics. By continuing its relationship as if nothing had happened, the US is furthering an unstable situation.”
In another legal case, Ali AlTaweel was sentenced to death by military court and Ali Attiya was sentence to life imprisonment for allegedly killing riot police officer AlMuraisi.
“Ten people were accused in the case of cutting the tongue of the Prayer Caller “Mo’athen” Erfan, two of which were charged with Incitement only. They were all sentenced to 15 years imprisonment despite the lawyers presenting substantial evidence against the allegations of the prosecution.
The military appeal court dismissed the appeal for the 14 prominent figures yesterday and upheld the sentences ranging between three years to life imprisonment. A number of those figures are still on hunger strike since the 24th of September demanding the release of the female detainees.
In a separate case, the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights said 32 civilians were sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for arson on a royal family member’s farm. Hussain Ahmed, who the group says “was arrested only because he is Abdulhadi Alkhawaja’s son in law”, will have his verdict read on 2nd October. His lawyer stated that Hussain’s case is unique because there is absolutely nothing against him, not even the usual posts on facebook or twitter, and all that is being held against him is his extracted confession under torture. He has been detained for 174 days, and is a 22 year old university student,” Abdulhadi Alkhawaja is a prominent human rights activist in Bahrain. He is currently in prison awaiting trial.
Meanwhile, Bahrain said on Tuesday it had released 25 Shi’ite women arrested last week over protest for political reforms and denied that they had been abused in detention.
Police detained 45 women who shouted anti-government slogans in a Manama mall a day before parliamentary by-elections boycotted by the main Shi’ite opposition party, Wefaq.
An Interior Ministry official said allegations of mistreatment in detention were not true, the statement said. Amnesty International said on Monday it feared the detainees had been tortured.
“They were apprehended without arrest orders, interrogated without lawyers present and some of them reportedly tortured or otherwise ill-treated,” the London-based group said.
Bahraini security forces have arrested and beaten more than 40 females protesting against the parliamentary by-elections in Bahrain, the country’s main opposition group, al-Wefaq, says.
The female Bahrainis, including seven minors aged between 12 and 15, were arrested on Friday, one day before the by-elections — boycotted by the opposition — to replace 18 lawmakers who resigned from the parliament in protest to the crackdown on anti-government demonstrators.
“More than 40 Bahraini women were savagely arrested… in a commercial center,” al-Wefaq said in a statement on Monday, adding that they were “beaten and humiliated.”
Al-Wefaq condemned the females’ arrests as “savage and inhumane,” saying that they had only been expressing their “right to freedom of expression”.
Election results in Bahrain show that more than 80 percent of the electorate refused to vote in the by-elections in the country.
According to a Bahraini government website, less than one in every five voters cast their ballots on Saturday.
Of the 144,513 eligible voters in 14 districts only 25,130 came out to vote, representing a 17.4 percent turnout, the Bahraini government’s elections website (www.vote.bh) reported.
The Al-Wefaq leader, Sheikh Ali Salman, said the results showed that Bahrainis rejected the king’s reforms, adding, “There is no such thing as Bahraini democracy. There has to be peaceful rotation of power.”
“If there is no transition, Bahrain will remain in a crisis of security and human rights, this is a historic moment,” he added.
Finally, Mahdi Abu Deeb, president of the Bahrain Teacher’s Society, who was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment, is “still on hunger strike and his life and well being is at threat.” He started his hunger strike on September 11 and stopped taking his medication on the 16th.
William Fisher has managed economic development programs for the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development in the Middle East, North Africa, Latin America, Asia and elsewhere for the past 25 years. He has supervised major multi-year projects for AID in Egypt, where he lived and worked for three years. He returned later with his team to design Egypt’s agricultural strategy. Fisher served in the international affairs area in the administration of President John F. Kennedy. He began his working life as a reporter and bureau chief for the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Associated Press in Florida. He now reports on a wide-range of issues for a number of online journals.