Bahrain indifferent to international criticism
In just one example, Bahrain's government failed to respond to a scathing report accusing authorities of detaining wounded protesters rather than allowing them to get treatment.
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Indeed, taxi drivers and human rights advocates report that authorities have wrecked at least 60 to 70 taxis, apparent retribution for carrying protesters during the February and March demonstrations.Skip to next paragraph
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Deaf – or indifferent – to international criticism
The government, which dominates the airwaves of state television, the state news agency and the print media, offers little response to the international criticism the crackdown has received.
A scathing report by Physicians for Human Rights, a US group that shared the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, accused Bahrain in a report April 22 of an "all-out assault on health care and health professionals," abductions of doctors in the middle of the night and "egregious" acts against patients and health professionals that included "torture, beating, verbal abuse, humiliation, and threats of rape and killing."
Asked on May 1 for a comment, Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Mubarak al Khalifa, a diplomat drafted to serve as a government spokesman, told McClatchy that he hadn't seen the report. A copy was emailed. Two days later, the same question was put at a news conference to Dr. Hala al Mehza, the acting health minister, who also said she wasn't aware of the report and asked a reporter to send a copy. Asked by email Sunday what she thought of the report, Mehza didn't respond.
Mehza also said she was in almost daily touch with the UN's high commissioner for human rights in Geneva and had cordial conversations with officials there. Yet on Sunday, High Commissioner Navi Pillay voiced deep concern about the "dire" human rights situation. She charged that Bahrain's secret trial of protesters, which led to death sentences for four, was "illegal and absolutely unacceptable" and she spoke of reports of "severe torture" of human rights defenders currently in detention.
State media give banner headlines to government claims that are at total variance with the known facts.
On the eve of World Press Freedom Day on May 3, Prime Minister Prince Khalifa ibn Salman al Khalifa pledged that Bahrain would protect journalists and provide a working atmosphere "to work freely and confidently." A day later, the same paper that had run that story bannered the pledge of King Hamad himself, under the headline: "Press pillar of democracy."
But the regime has driven the sole opposition daily into receivership; fired, deported or arrested senior staff; and forced the editor to resign and will put him on trial next week.
Bahrain's government began its crackdown after Saudi Arabia sent in troops to help quell protests in mid-March, but the al Khalifa dynasty has long had a policy of trying to dilute the Shiites' overwhelming majority – Shiites outnumber Sunnis here by nearly four to one – by offering citizenship to Sunnis from other nations.
In part because the Shiite birthrate is so high, the effort hasn't turned the tide, however.
The Bahraini government isn't the first dictatorship to run afoul of its public.
After the East German Communist regime brutally suppressed a popular uprising in June 1953, playwright Bertolt Brecht advised the country's government that it needed a new population. "The people have lost the government's confidence," he wrote. "Wouldn't it be simpler if the government dissolved the people and chose a new one?"
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