Bahrain’s approach to PR: put dissidents in prison for life
For the best part of a year King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and the rulers of Bahrain have been on a PR drive to assure the world that the country’s undoing the damage done by its ferocious crackdown on protesters last year.
Known for its sensitivity over reputation-management (which, in truth, could be said of most countries), Bahrain’s government is supposed to have been stung by all the criticism it received. It was serious about reform. It even got international human rights experts in to help advise it. Things were going to change …
So today’s news that 13 Bahraini dissidents have had their sentences - including eight life sentences - upheld by an appeal court surely makes a nonsense of these promises.
I can’t say I’m surprised. It already looked like the authorities had been toying with the fate of Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and the other activists and today’s ruling from the country’s High Criminal Court of Appeal looks to be part of a pattern of delays followed by draconian sentences.
Remember, these are individuals who certainly took part in demonstrations - along with thousands of other Bahrainis - but seemingly committed no crime whatsoever (their original conviction for “setting up terror groups to topple the royal regime and change the constitution” seems to be a bogus charge used against the country’s leading dissidents). Meanwhile, of course, Bahrain has already jailed Nabeel Rajab, the President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights for participating in “illegal gatherings”, and in a few weeks another Bahraini appeals court is due to rule on whether nine medical workers from the Salmaniya medical complex in Manama will have their convictions upheld (who would bet against this?). Amnesty and others believe the medics have been punished for doing no more than treating wounded protesters and/or denouncing the violence used against demonstrators.
So what can be done? Just the other week King Hamad was in London paying a (low-key) visit to David Cameron and I was saying that those with influence (such as Cameron) ought to be denouncing what’s going on in Bahrain. So, I wonder, will there be a strongly-worded denunciation of the latest depressing development in Bahrain on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website later today? Let’s see …
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.