“I could hear an electric device next to me, which was to scare me. I fainted twice and was woken up with cold water thrown on me. I was threatened that they would harm my family and that they would bring my husband and torture and electrocute him. The men told me ‘no one can protect you’. They took away my humanity, I was weak prey to them.”
— Ebtisam al-Saegh, Bahraini human rights defender
Since June 2016, Bahrain’s government have dramatically stepped up their crackdown on its many critics.
Under the authority of their Penal Code which effectively criminalises freedom of expression, officials have been arresting, harassing, threatening, prosecuting and imprisoning peaceful critics. Human rights defenders (HRDs), political activists, lawyers and journalists have been at particular risk. Opposition groups have also been totally banned.
A chilling effect
Going a step further, there have been recent reports of the security forces torturing human rights defenders, both men and women — something we have not seen in the country for a number of years. Bahraini activists living abroad have also been targeted, and their families subjected to interrogation and imprisonment in response to their relatives’ action abroad.
The result is a chilling effect on Bahrain’s civil society, with few willing or able to speak out either because they have been jailed or now believe that the risks of imprisonment, torture or reprisals against their families are too high.
Weak response from UK government
Rather than publicly condemning such action, the UK government has recently looked to strengthening trade and security ties with Bahrain, particularly in the wake of Brexit.
The Bahraini embassy in the UK has been one of the main threats to activists living outside of Bahrain, with many HRDs being targeted by phone, social media and in person. Smear campaigns attempt to label activists as ‘terrorists’, and in some cases the embassy has reportedly sent intelligence operatives to stalk them and monitor their activity.
The response from the UK on Bahrain’s human rights abuses has been muted at best, and it has even gone so far to praise the country’s “progress on its reform agenda”.
Bahrain are also free to come over to the UK to shop for the arms, attending the huge arms fair that happens every year at London's ExCel.
This is unacceptable. The UK government needs to strengthen its response to the deteriorating situation, and publicly criticise any further human rights setbacks in the country.
Learn more in our full report
‘No one can protect you’: Bahrain’s year of crushing dissent documents how at least 169 government critics or their relatives have been arrested, tortured, threatened or banned from travel by the authorities, between June 2016 and June 2017.
- Bahrain's year of crushing dissent