And here’s the news?

Oh, Bahrain.  Seeing the news of Bahrain unfold is a bewildering experience.  The outward appearance is so different from what is really happening.  Reporting of the great benevolence of the king is just window dressing and bears little resemblance to the reality of the situation – and still, the west continues to court the Bahrain royalty.

On Wednesday, King Hamad arrived in New York in order to address the United Nations General Assembly.  http://www.gulf-daily-news.com/NewsDetails.aspx?storyid=313838  His address covers “international developments, the Mideast Peace process, the Palestinian issue and Bahrain’s contribution to the international peace-keeping efforts. He will also spotlight Bahrain’s internal affairs, continuing reform and modernisation and the rule of the law.”  Excuse me –  the words peace and King Hamad do not fit in the same sentence.  This same king has an army and police force that continues to systematically harass, shoot and arrest most of its citizens.  Perhaps the second part of his address tells it all.  He will continue to modernise and reform in the way he sees fit and use the rule of law to punish those who might think democracy is a better idea.

There was a young lady from Niger, 
Who smiled as she rode on a tiger.
They returned from the ride
With the lady inside,
And the smile on the face of the tiger.

But moving on – some more crazy making news.    Bahrain has created a special fund to compensate the victims of the unrest earlier this year.  A National Victims’ Compensation Fund will pay people who were  “materially, morally or physically harmed” by security forces or public officials during protests this year.  Those who were injured while helping victims will also qualify for compensation.  Specialised courts will judge each claimant.  Well, well.  Now isn’t this interesting.  Those involved in the ‘unrest’ are still being harassed, some are still in prison and many, including the medical professionals who helped the injured are waiting for trials in military courts.  No-one who was involved in the democracy movement would go near a ‘specialised court’ without fearing that they would be riding on a tiger.  However, those who did not take part may indeed, find they are compensated for loyalty to the king.

OK – and here is some more funny news.  The king has issued a decree that an addition $1.03 billion will be spent in the next two years for wage increases for government employees.    This is amusing because there are still thousands who are without jobs having been fired, many from government positions.  So who is going to benefit?

But here is some real news of what is going on in Bahrain.  Last weekend there were huge protests before and after the burial of Seyyed Jawad Ahmed Hashim Marhoon in Sitra.  Marhoon died after tear gas was fired into his home and he developed breathing difficulty.  “Tens of thousands marched chanting anti-regime slogans in the funeral. Thick clouds of tear gas, rubber pellets and stones covered many of the streets as police clashed with angry protesters.”

Just yesterday traffic was disrupted in the central business district by protesters who used vehicles to block traffic and slowed down the traffic significantly for about three hours.  The protest was aimed at putting pressure on the government ahead of the by-elections this weekend.  The by-election is the result of the al-Wefaq opposition group’s resignation earlier this year in protest over the crack-down. According to Khalil al-Marzouk, a party official, al Wefaq is boycotting the by-election “The 40-member parliament had lost its legitimacy since the mass resignation, and “we will not be a part of this parliament as it does not represent the will of the people”.  Reference and photo from Al Jazeera.

Photo from Al Jazeera

This weekend heralds more clashes while the by-election takes place.  Tomorrow, Friday 23 September is being called ‘the Day of the Return’ and pro-democracy protesters will try to return to the Pearl Roundabout.  Oh yes, sorry, it’s now the GCC traffic lights and it is surrounded day and night by tanks and soldiers.  I have heard that to protect the roundabout from occupation tomorrow, more troops and jeeps are being brought in from Saudi Arabia.  My thoughts are with the people of Bahrain.

Canadian silence

This blog is a summary of an article in Global Research by Finian Cunningham.  Finian was expelled from Bahrain on 18 June 2011.  All quotes and the photograph are from this article.

Nasar A Raas

On 20 March of this year, a Canadian citizen, Naser Al Raas, was arrested at the airport in Bahrain as he was leaving the country.  He was taken to the Ministry of Interior headquarters in the Al Qala fortress in Manama where he was imprisoned and tortured for four weeks.  No criminal charges were laid.   During this period, he was forced to sign a piece of paper which it transpires was a confession.

After one month, Al Raas was released and brought before a military court in June. He was accused, with 12 other men, of ‘kidnapping a police officer and promoting crimes against the rulers’.  These kinds of fabricated charges are very common in Bahrain, for example the ongoing prosecution of the senior Bahraini medical specialist charged with ‘concealing machineguns and hospital beds’ and ‘exaggerating the wounds of patients for propaganda purposes, resulting in the death of patients’.  “In over 400 trials, confessions forced through torture are the sole basis for the prosecution case. In eerie show trial fashion, sometimes videos of defendants making confessions are even televised on Bahrain state TV before the verdicts are reached.”

Naser has had his passport confiscated and he cannot leave Bahrain.  He suffers from pulmonary embolism, a rare health condition and has had two open-heart operations in Canada.  He has been without medication which he requires since he was arrested. If Naser is found guilty at his next court appearance, he faces 20 years in prison.  Without medication, with an acute heart condition and already weakened from torture, this sentence would probably kill him.

Questions are being asked why the Canadian government and Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, have said nothing about Naser’s situation.  “The official silence may be due to a bilateral trade deal Canada is in the process of completing with the Bahraini regime, and also Ottawa’s increasing subordinance to Washington’s foreign policy and therefore unwillingness to upset an important US ally in the Persian Gulf.”….  ”In the grand scheme of Canada’s commercial trade interests and imperialist intrigues in the Gulf, the fate of one of its citizens appears to be a matter that needs to be buried rather than raised. The case of Naser Al Raas begs the question: have western governments become so lawless and wanton in their geopolitical calculations that even the basic human rights of their own citizens are now worthless?”

 

Have you seen a rubber bullet?

Rubber bullets are nasty.  They sound quite benign but they are not.  They came in many sizes and fracture bones, cause head, eye and ear injury and can penetrate the skin. They can also kill you. These are what Bahraini police continue to fire at villagers in Bahrain night after night as they do teargas canisters too, some at very close range.  This video clip from Al Jazeera shows the reality of Bahraini daily life today.

If you are injured by rubber bullets or experience injury from any kind of police or military weapon, you cannot go to hospital or get medical help, even now.  It is not safe.  So Bahrainis continue to be injured and hundreds still have pellet bullets in their bodies from being fired at during the major protests earlier this year.  As they also haven’t been able to get medical help to have the bullets removed, the bullets sit under the skin and provide corrugations.

But despite Bahraini’s continuing to be harmed by their own government, the British have invited Bahrain to a huge arms fair in London.  Delegations from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and many other countries with regimes described as authoritarian by human rights groups received invitations to The Defence and Security Equipment International exhibition.    More than half the exhibitors are UK based and include Tactica whose Saudi armoured vehicles were part of suppressing the pro-democracy protests  in Bahrain earlier this year. (Source).  Interestingly, Libya which was invited the last time the exhibition was held when it was still under Gaddafi, has not been invited this year.

“We have an industry that as a nation we should be proud of,” said Rees Ward, chief executive of ADS, the defence and security trade group”….  ADS estimates that the defence sector employs 110,000 people in the UK directly, creating more than £22bn in annual sales last year, £9.5bn of which were exports. (Source).

Many arms export licences to Bahrain were revoked by the British government after the Bahraini regime’s suppression of the pro-democracy protests earlier this year.  When challenged about inviting delegates from countries like Bahrain, the British governments commented, “Just because delegates come here doesn’t mean they will get equipment” and says that licence rules still apply.  “An invitation does not mean that licenses will automatically be issued for the goods exhibited”.  This may be so, but the question is why countries such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have been invited.    Although invitations to the exhibition are made by UK Trade and Industry, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office decided on which country to invite. (Source)

Amnesty International accused the British government of a “serious error in judgement” in inviting the Bahraini regime.  The charity’s arms programme director Oliver Sprague said: “No government which is known to maim, kill and torture its own people should ever be allowed to attend a fair to shop for weapons. “This decision also appears to be at odds with Britain’s previous censure of the violence carried out by Bahrain’s state security forces, which left scores of the country’s people dead or injured.” (Source)

Mr Sprague said it was “ludicrous that they would enable the same government to window shop for weapons on British soil.”They will be here perusing the wares on offer and will undoubtedly arrange future arms sales when far out of the reach of the British arms licensing regime. The invitation makes a mockery of any claim that Bahrain’s access to arms is being moderated.”

The Guardian has an excellent article on Bahrain being invited to the arms fair and the different stance Britain has taken towards the Libyan and Bahraini regimes. “ Britain presents an unpredictable face to the world, colluding in Gaddafi’s brutality one moment then bombing him the next. Now the mixed messages sent to those seeking fundamental human rights sow further confusion. It can only serve to fuel cynicism that our stance towards the Arab spring is based more on commerce than ethics”  The full article is worth reading. .

Maybe this comment from a Bahraini newspaper will help with any confusion you may have about this Bahraini-British relationship.  The article begins by saying that Britain is a long-standing close friend of Bahrain.  The new British ambassador to Bahrain was quoted as saying,’ “Bahrain has been through a difficult period over the last six months and the role of friends is to help each other in times of need.” He also said that he hoped to “deepen and broaden the already close relationship of the two countries and develop new areas of collaboration in trade and investment, education and healthcare, among others”.   Well, what a surprise – perhaps that might include more guns, tanks and tear gas cylinders?

Solidarity with Bahrain

More than a hundred Bahrainis began a hunger strike last week.  Many of those were medical personnel who had been imprisoned since March 2011 and are still facing trail in a military court on the 26th September.  Around the world, and particularly in Ireland, demands for the release of the doctors has been growing.  This has included Irish doctors going on hunger strike to show solidarity with the Bahraini doctors and there was news about Australian doctors and Bahraini medical doctors in Australia staging a hunger strike in front of the American Embassy in Sydney.
At a special hearing on Wednesday, 11 doctors who are charged with participating in efforts to overthrown the regime’ were released on bail.  Check out this great Global Voices link with videos.

And in the sort of parallel universe that the government exists in, the Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs,  Shaikh Khalid bin Ali Al Khalifa, said that  “ the Kingdom of Bahrain is witnessing a great democratic development that will contribute in boosting the reform process of His Majesty the King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa”.  “The minister affirmed that the government was always willing to talk to all, including the opposition. This is part of the unending process of dialogue initiated by His Majesty the King.”

The student ghosts

Have you heard about the student ghosts in Bahrain?  These are the students who were expelled from the Bahrain Polytechnic but weren’t expelled according to the Deputy CEO, Mohammed Assiri.   According to him, there were only 31 expelled students and he commented, “Information circulating about the number of expelled students lacks accuracy.”  Contrary to his claim, the Bahraini government had previously stated that 47 students had been expelled with 9 others suspended for a year.  Additionally the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights has in their possession copies of the final expulsion letters of 49 students.  Why now change the numbers or is this part the ongoing Orwellian process of obfuscation and fact-changing?
Additionally, despite government media statements saying that many expelled students will be reinstated in the new academic year (though obviously not the ghosts!) there has been no information to the students as to the procedures for their reinstatement.
The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights “believes that the Bahraini authorities’ actions of delaying and excluding expelled students from being reinstated, their lack of transparency in announcing the actual numbers of expelled students as well as their refusal to admit that violations have taken place in the students’ right to education, does not support the basis needed for reconciliation and return of things back to normal, which could be an omen of the violations reoccurring.”
One of the expelled students described her situation as follows.  “ I and other expelled students tried to look for other universities in Bahrain that can accept us, but we found that there is no place for us in any of them. Most universities are either owned by the Royal family or just do not want any problems by accepting students who were accused of being politically active.
Learning more about my rights as a human made me stronger after I felt that all doors were shut in front of me. I have learned that I have a lot of rights that I should fight for. Unlike my regime that fights peaceful protestors by guns and bullets, I believe that education will be a more effective weapon that can destroy any evil in my country. My expulsion was actually a privilege for me as it made me aware that education in Bahrain is corrupted and just serving the government. Now I believe that it is time for me to look for an opportunity of studying at any other institute that can develop my intellectual abilities and teach me more about my rights as a human. A place that will give me as much as it will benefit from having one of the top students of Bahrain who is eager for studying, has a solid ground of knowledge that makes her able to raise competition levels in any place she studies at, and a student who gives back to the community, as shown in my certificates of appreciation.”