Sunday, February 14, 2016

No change in Bahrain

Bahrain’s anti-regime protesters took to the streets as "Come to Revolution" campaign picks up speed ahead of the fifth anniversary of the country's popular revolution. Protesters staged a rally in the northern village of Musalla amid tight security and voiced their readiness to mark the anniversary of the uprising that engulfed their country on February 14, 2011. The protesters were holding photos of jailed political activists. Since mid-February 2011, thousands of anti-regime protesters have held numerous demonstrations on an almost daily basis in the kingdom, calling for the Al Khalifah monarchy to relinquish power. Scores of people have been killed and hundreds of others injured or arrested in the ongoing heavy-handed crackdown on peaceful rallies.

Britain has been bankrolling a Bahraini police watchdog that failed to investigate torture allegations regarding a young political activist on death row in the Gulf state. The funding forms part of a broader £2.1 million (US$3 million) scheme to improve Bahrain’s criminal justice system and was sparked by Britain’s close strategic ties to the kingdom. Those with concerns about detainees’ treatment in Bahrain have been encouraged by the British government to contact the Gulf state’s police ombudsman. But the British-funded watchdog’s failure to investigate a complaint lodged by the family of a political activist on death row has brought its reputation into disrepute. Human Rights Watch warned that credible allegations of abuse and torture of detainees in Bahrain undercuts claims that the state’s criminal justice system is improving. The group said that new institutions in the Gulf state are “sham reforms,” and demanded to know how Bahrain and Britain’s governments could possibly claim they were protecting prisoners from abuse during interrogation.

British arms sales to Bahrain have increased significantly over the past five years, while in the  background abuse claims have continued. Between February 2011 and September 2015, the UK has done deals with Bahrain worth £45m, covering arms such as machine guns, assault rifles and anti-armour ammunition, according to the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) organisation. The total for the three years prior to the uprising was £6m. Saudi Arabia also sent UK-supplied armoured vehicles to Bahrain to safeguard infrastructure, allowing the Bahraini monarchy violently to repress the pro-democracy opposition movement, led by the country’s Shia majority. Doctors who treated protesters were tortured.

In 2014, the UK agreed to open a naval base in Bahrain as a result of a defence agreement. Construction began last November, with Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, celebrating the deal in a photocall with the Bahraini foreign minister, Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa. The pair held brand new shovels as they laid the cornerstone of HMS Juffair, the first major naval base east of the Suez Canal opened by Britain since 1971.

A Bahraini human rights group lodged a complaint with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development against Fifa over Sheikh Salman al-Khalifa’s candidacy for the football governing body’s presidency. In the complaintthe campaign group Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) alleged that Sheikh Salman committed numerous human rights abuses while president of the Bahrain Football Association. The central allegation concerns the persecution and arrest of footballers who took part in pro-democracy protests. In 2011, Sheikh Salman reportedly chaired a special committee that led to the jailing of more than 150 athletes, coaches and referees. “All the evidence suggests that Sheikh Salman was involved in the government crackdown on free expression and human rights,” said Husain Abdulla, executive director of ADHRB. “This raises serious concerns about his ability to protect the athletes who would be under his care as president of Fifa.”

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