Bahrain rights activist's wife details torture, unfair trial
Bahrain's crackdown on the pro-democracy uprising has shifted from the streets to courtrooms, workplaces, and schools. One prisoner's wife describes sexual assault and psychological abuse.
A prominent Bahraini rights activist tried to tell a judge today how he was sexually assaulted and threatened with rape while in government custody. But Abdulhadi al-Khawaja was forcefully removed from the courtroom.Skip to next paragraph
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Another defendant, the elderly Mohammed Hassan Mohammed Jawad, also tried to show the judge signs of torture on his body, but was also silenced, say witnesses.
Mr. Khawaja and Mr. Jawad are among 21 Bahrainis – mostly Shiite human rights activists, clerics, and political leaders – charged with trying to overthrow the Sunni monarchy that rules this small kingdom and of having links to a “terrorist organization." They were arrested amid the country's pro-democracy uprising that began in February and though many have experienced jail before, family members say they have been treated much more harshly this time.
"It has never been like this," says Khawaja's wife, Khadija Moussawi, who was present at the court hearing today and was reached by phone in Manama. "Before he was in jail, [but] he wasn't tortured like this, he wasn't beaten up like this, he wasn't psychologically tortured.”
Detainees' allegations of sexual assault and physical abuse contradict the monarchy's attempt to show the kingdom is getting back to normal.
Last week, Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa announced that emergency declared in March would be lifted June 1. Supplementary elections will be held in September to replace the parliamentary members who resigned over the government crackdown. Bahrain Grand Prix officials have said they were ready to hold a Formula One race, which had been called off amid the protests.
But activists say the widespread crackdown has simply moved from the streets to courtrooms, workplaces, and schools.
At least 1,000 still detained; 2,000 fired
Along with the abuse alleged by detainees, at least 2,000 people have been arrested since February, and at least half of them are still jailed, says Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights.
A wave of firings of Shiite employees is continuing “every day,” with at least 2,000 fired so far, according to Shiite political bloc Al Wefaq. The Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights said Monday that students at Bahrain University are being forced to sign a pledge of loyalty to the government. And at the beginning of the month, authorities arrested two members of the biggest opposition bloc, Al Wefaq, a moderate Shiite group.
“The crackdown is not over. This is ongoing,” says Toby Jones, a historian of the modern Gulf at Rutgers University. The government’s actions indicate that, far from preparing for a political solution, it is retrenching to its autocracy of the 1990s and abandoning the attempts at reform it had embarked on in the past decade, he says. “I interpret all of this as a sign that there will be no liberal autocracy anymore, it's simply going to be old-fashioned autocratic politics. Because look at what happens when they open a little bit – people have expectations, and they demand things, and they threaten power.”
The 21 defendants on trial now face life in prison or the death sentence if convicted.