Pro-democracy campaigners have warned about the significant deterioration of human rights in Bahrain, stating that the ease of international pressure on the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom has emboldened the ruling Al Khalifah regime not to shy away from its heavy-handed crackdown on dissent.
“Bahrain is now clearly sliding in a new and very dangerous direction with 37 people arrested yesterday alone,” Brian Dooley, the director of the Human Rights Defenders program at the US-based Human Rights First organization, said on Thursday.
“The fairly weak level of restraint that was there before has all but gone,” he said, calling on the United States and Britain to wield their influence on the Bahraini regime and step up their criticism.
Meanwhile, activists said at a press conference in Lebanon on Thursday that the human rights situation has deteriorated in Bahrain as 19 people are now sitting on death row, there are renewed reports of torture in detention and military courts are now trying civilians.
The activists also said they are seriously worried about the health of imprisoned prominent human rights activist Nabeel Rajab, and demanded his access to adequate healthcare.
“Recently alarming signals have multiplied… regarding his detention condition,” International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) President Dimitris Christopoulos said. Rajab is FIDH’s deputy secretary general.
“Nabeel is in real danger,” Sheikh Maytham al-Salman from the Bahrain Center for Human Rights said.
Opposition leader’s trial adjourned until February 19
Meanwhile, Bahrain’s Fourth High Criminal Court has postponed until February 19 the trial of distinguished Shia Bahraini cleric and opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman and two of his colleagues, Hassan Sultan and Ali al-Aswad, on charges of working with Qatar to overthrow the ruling Bahraini regime.
The 52-year-old secretary general of the dissolved al-Wefaq National Islamic Society and his aides were charged on November 1 with “spying on behalf of a foreign country… with the aim of carrying out subversive acts against Bahrain and harming its national interests.”
Sheikh Salman was also charged with “revealing defence secrets to a foreign country and disseminating information that would harm Bahrain’s status and reputation.”
He has been in jail on a nine-year prison sentence since late 2014 for what the Manama regime has called “insulting” government officials, “inciting” unrest through his speeches targeting the authorities during the 2011 uprising, attempting to overthrow the regime and collaborating with foreign powers.
Sheikh Salman denies all the charges, saying he has merely been seeking reforms in the country through peaceful means.
Amnesty International and other human rights groups have already censured his arrest and called for his release.
Thousands of anti-regime protesters have held demonstrations in Bahrain on an almost daily basis ever since a popular uprising began in the country in mid-February 2011.
They are demanding that the Al Khalifah dynasty relinquish power and allow a just system representing all Bahrainis to be established.
Manama has gone to great lengths to clamp down on any sign of dissent. On March 14, 2011, troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were deployed to assist Bahrain in its crackdown.
Scores of people have lost their lives and hundreds of others sustained injuries or got arrested as a result of the Al Khalifah regime’s crackdown.
On March 5, 2017, Bahrain’s parliament approved the trial of civilians at military tribunals in a measure blasted by human rights campaigners as being tantamount to imposition of an undeclared martial law countrywide.
Bahraini monarch King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah ratified the constitutional amendment on April 3 last year.