Panel Event – Deepening Political and Human Rights Crisis in Bahrain

On July 3, 2020, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain hosted an online-streamed event entitled “Deepening Political & Human Rights Crisis in Bahrain”.  This event has special meaning, as it proves that human right defenders may continue to speak out and advocate for positive change in oppressive countries, such as Bahrain, even during the midst of the current global COVID-19 crisis, and further may engage despite restrictions as the 44th session of the UNHRC is commencing.

The July 3 event focused on one key question: Has the time to bridge the gap between Bahraini opposition and the Government passed? This question is asked in light of the current instability in the country, and Arab Gulf region, while further complicated by the countries ongoing political, human rights, economic, and social woes. While nine years have passed since the 2011 Arab Spring, it appears as though the government’s actions in suppressing the pro-democracy movements in the country as still widespread – and perhaps more so, given today’s current global insecurity.

Pannelist Dr. Saeed Al-Shehabi, a leading figure of the Bahraini Freedom Movement – BFM, Salma Moussawi, head of the Legal Advocacy program at Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain, Ali Mushaima, a leading Bahraini activist living in exile, and Fabiana Perazzoli, an Advocacy Assistance with Americans for Democracy & Human Rights – Rome, discussed the current ongoing political and human rights crisis in the country and further examines the prospect of overall stability and the ability for reconciliation between oppositional factions and the government of Bahrain.

Fabiana Perazzoli began the discussion stating that Italy is in a unique position regarding their ability to influence Bahraini policy in so far as Italy is one of the few European countries that had a physical embassy in Bahrain. Ms. Perazzoli stated that Bahraini government officials involved in human right abuses can continue to operate with impunity because of their close political and security relationship with the United States and the United Kingdom. Ms. Perazzoli stated that human rights issues in Bahrain could only be addressed when there is a fair and just political system. She discussed that Italian relationship to Bahrain could be used to guide European policy to address the behavior of the Bahraini government against its people and institute accountability and a political dialogue. Recently, proposed Italian policy changes towards Bahrain have been received well by MPs and other European governments who are actively recognizing the human rights violations and political crisis there. Perazzoli concluded by stating the issues in Bahrain will not end until its two powerful allies no longer condone the Bahraini authorities using torture and violating human rights.

Dr. Saeed al-Shehabi offered a powerful connection to the current movement taking the United States by storm; just like Americans he proclaimed that “Bahrainis can’t Breath” and are choked off but an oppressive society that can give protesters (many of them young) life sentences for even just voicing their desires for political liberation. However, a life sentence, he states, is a small price to pay for freedom. A fish head rots from the top, and so does this corrupt system. King Hamad himself has promised reform, he has even released political prisoners multiple times as an act of so-called goodwill. However, the problem is systemic: there will never be human rights in Bahrain without serious political change.

Regarding Bahrain’s justice systems and practices, Salma Moussawi from ADHRB stated that such processes upholding basic human rights—such as due process—simply do not exist anymore. In doing so, she provided powerful examples of the various human rights violations that continue to plague the Kingdom, including the story of 18-year-old Mahmood Saeed Abdulla’s brutal interrogation. Merely a freshmen, Mahmood was subject to “the most brutal forms of torture and abuse during his interrogation” after being forced to dissapear for nearly 28 days. Stories like this, Salma explained, illustrate why the human rights situation has gotten worse in Bahrain despite the illusion of progress that is being projected. Even though the Kingdom seemingly released prisoners due to the COVID19 crisis, it was later observed that none of the released persons were political prisoners and/or activists that had been put in detention on charges of mass terrorism for their involvement in “dissent” and advocacy. When discussing her work and what can be done in order to bring these situations to light and provide a tangible solution for them, Salma mentioned that their job is to document the violations, and that new forms of advocacy must be enacted in order to incite the Bahraini Kingdom to change. She finished with a powerful note, stating that one cannot criticize the government at all, and that there are no guarantees in place to protect citizens from imprisonment or torture.

Ali Mushaima was the fourth panelist at the event, and spoke about his own experiences with the Bahraini government. He told the story of how his father, Hassan Mushaima, was arrested and imprisoned during the 2011 pro-democracy demonstrations in Bahrain. Ali was in London at the time of his father’s arrest, and the Bahraini government revoked his citizenship because of his connection with his father. Following his arrest, Hassan Mushaima was subject to brutal torture by Bahraini authorities, in one instance being forced to stand for hours despite his chronic illnesses and old age. Ali went on hunger strike outside the Embassy of Bahrain in London to protest the egregious human rights violations committed against his father and countless other activists in Jau Prison and the Dry Dock Detention Center. Ali stated that no authorities in Bahrain are being held accountable for their involvement in the violation of human rights.

In the end, all panelists agreed that the impunity and lack of accountability afforded to human rights abusers within Bahrain allow for its perpetuation. In order to facilitate real change,  the international community must counter this impunity. The event ended with each panelist addressing questions from the audience on a broad range of topics regarding the current situation in Bahrain, and which further elaborated on the questions and suggestions of reconciliation.