Smash it up! Bahrain reneges on its reform promises

If last autumn was the “offer to fix” period, this autumn is the “let’s carry on smashing things up” phase.

I’m referring to Bahrain, where last year’s bloody crackdown on protests led to a period of apparent contrition from the Gulf state’s rulers. The result was the much-trumpeted Bahrain Commission of Inquiry, which was supposedly going to see Bahrain turn the page. Police officers would be charged over the torture and killing of protesters. Civilian protesters who’d be given life sentences before unfair military courts would get re-trials. Things would improve.

Except, in the main, they haven’t … This has been the sorry denouement to the great “page-turning” saga. Instead, on an almost-daily basis, the Bahraini security forces are using tear gas and buckshot against protesters (cast your mind back to April’s grand prix in Bahrain, and you’ll recall that these were the signature tactics of the Bahraini authorities).

And the jailings continue. We’ve seen prominent dissidents Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab locked up, while numerous less prominent opponents of the Khalifa dynasty have joined them. Last week Zainab al-Khawaja - Abdulhadi’s daughter and herself an outspoken critic of the Bahraini authorities - was jailed for two months for the not-exactly-very-heinous crime of ripping up a photo of Bahrain’s king, Hamad bin Issa Al Khalifa. She also has a further 13 - yes, 13 - trials hanging over her. (Amnesty has a campaign for Zainab here).

Today it’s been the turn of the doctors and nurses. Nine medical professionals from the capital’s Salmaniya Medical Centre had their appeals against prison sentences on trumped-up weapons charges rejected. Some of them are now left with jail terms of five years.

The Bahraini authorities are playing a double game. When international criticism increases and becomes seemingly unavoidable, it makes sweeping promises (another example is last month’s very good - on paper - official response to detailed criticism at the United Nations). But the promises ring hollow. The real agenda seems to be to steamroll ahead with jailings and a long, concerted crackdown. Bahrain is reneging on its reform promises. It’s still smashing up human rights.

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