In an interview with RT Arabic, Bahrain’s Foreign Affairs Minister denied media reports stating there are political prisoners in Bahrain. He said that Bahrain does not have a policy of “silencing voices” and that “there are no prisoners of conscience in Bahrain.” Foreign Affairs Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa asserted, “Those who have been imprisoned are individuals involved in the murder of policemen and terrorist bombings.”
Despite the Foreign Minister’s assertions, human rights organizations have documented numerous cases involving the arrest and detention of political dissidents. In its 2015 world report, Human Rights Watch stated “human rights activists and members of the political opposition continued to face arrest and prosecution.” Arresting individuals because of their political beliefs is the definition of political prisoner. Cases resulting in prisoners of conscience include those of opposition leader Abdul Wahab Hussain and political activists Hassan Mushaima and Abdul Jalil al-Singace. All three are serving life sentences based on terrorism charges. In 2013 authorities convicted 50 people of establishing and joining the February 14 Coalition, a coalition of opposition groups that have organized protests, and called for political reform. Authorities found only one out of the 50 defendants to have committed an identifiable act of violence, but convicted all of them for “committing crimes of violence and sedition,” and sentenced them to between five and 15 years in prison.
Under Bahrain’s broad and vague anti-terror legislation, criticism of the government and political opinion can be construed as acts of terrorism. The law “allows the government to prosecute its critics and generally limit basic freedoms as the freedom of expression, assembly, and association.” In a 2014 report documenting the use of the anti-terror law to silence dissidents, Bahrain Center for Human Rights reported that “in 2013 alone, 328 defendants were tried for alleged terrorism crimes in 38 separate cases.” The report went on to state that “a majority of these cases lacked adequate evidence, and convictions were based mainly or entirely on the defendants’ confessions obtained under torture, or unrevealed sources.”
The Foreign Minister’s statement that Bahrain does not have any political prisoners does not hold up under scrutiny given the extensive documentation regarding its human rights abuses.
Tyler Pry is an Advocacy Intern at Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain
Photo courtesy of Bahrain Mirror