Several leading figures in Bahrain’s civil society who have briefed the State Department on the country’s repression are among those now prevented from leaving the kingdom, says Brian Dooley, Director of Human Rights First’s Human Rights Defenders Program:
Sheikh Maytham Al Salman had his passport withheld and so was unable to travel to take part in a fellowship program due to start this month at Stanford University, awarded in recognition of “the significant contributions that he has made to build more tolerant societies to counter violence and extremism in the Middle East.”….. Rula Al Saffar, president of Bahrain’s Nursing Society and one of the medics arrested, detained, and tortured in 2011 after treating injured protestors and telling the media the truth about the regime’s violence..… Jalila al Salman is vice president of Bahrain’s Teachers’ Association and also a prominent figure in Bahrain’s civil society. She too was detained and tortured in 2011, and the American embassy sent an observer to her trial………Mohammed Al Tajer is a veteran human rights lawyer in Bahrain, respected for decades of legal representation of civil society figures.
“The United States really should react to these reprisals forcefully, publicly and quickly,” Dooley writes for The Huffington Post.
Stanford University’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law called on the Bahraini authorities to release the travel ban on Salman, head of the Religious Freedoms Unit at the Bahrain Human Rights Observatory (BHRO).
In a joint statement, five Bahraini non-government organisations (NGOs): Bahrain Forum for Human Rights, Salam for Democracy and Human Rights, Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Bahraini German Organization for Human Rights and Democracy, and Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, confirmed that the Bahraini authorities have arrested 47 religious scholars, including the head of the Scholarly Council, as well as a number of activists and civilians for allegedly illegally protesting after the nationality revocation of Sheikh Isa Qassim on 20 June 2016.
The US State Department this week reiterated its calls for the release of human rights activist, Nabeel Rajab, stressing that it follows his case and that representatives of the U.S. embassy in Bahrain attended Rajab’s last hearing.
A court in Bahrain last month ordered the country’s main Shiite opposition group to be dissolved Sunday, deepening a crackdown on dissent in the strategically key Western-allied kingdom. The order against al-Wefaq marks one of the sharpest blows yet against civil society activists in the Sunni-ruled island nation, which was rocked by widespread protests led by its Shia majority demanding political reforms five years ago.
A bipartisan group of U.S. senators recently called on the State Department to reconsider military aid to Bahrain following a crackdown on political opposition and a deterioration of human rights:
In a letter addressed to Secretary of State John Kerry, the senators request that the State Department rethink arms sales to the key Gulf ally if Bahrain’s leadership cannot protect the rights freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, according to a copy of the letter obtained by CNN.
The letter, from Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Democratic Sens. Chris Murphy, Ron Wyden and Tim Kaine, follows a June 21 State Department report to Congress critical of Bahrain.
The “lack of due process and the criminalization of the exercise of free expression continue to undermine the progress Bahrain has made since 2011,” according to State Department spokesman John Kirby.
This week the International Monetary Fund predicted that Bahrain could run out of money in less than five years. Such warnings have been streaming in from financial experts this year, Human Rights First’s Dooley adds:
In February, credit rating agency S&P awarded Bahrain a “negative” outlook form a previously “stable” one, followed in March by a downgrade from Moody’s rating agency. It also placed it on review for further downgrade, noting that “Deterioration in the domestic or regional political environment, resulting in disruptions to oil production and/or foreign investments in the economy, would also be highly credit negative.” Then in June Fitch’s agency downgraded Bahrain from BBB- to BB+.
Observers fear that the current crackdown on civil society will do little to revive confidence in an increasingly repressive government.