Washington June 28, 2011

With Bahrain’s national dialogue fast approaching, Freedom House expresses its deep concern about the ongoing arrests, intimidation, and in some cases torture of political activists speaking out in favor of democracy. These incidents constitute a pattern of repression that belies any promises of reform and honest political discourse by the government or the ruling family.

“By continuing to proceed with hasty prosecutions in military courts of leading opposition political figures and pro-democracy activists, the Bahraini government is in effect removing its political competition,” said Charles Dunne, Freedom House’s senior program manager for the Middle East and North Africa. “These actions strongly suggest that the National Dialogue will not be an opportunity to advance political freedom in Bahrain, but rather a ploy to prevent criticism of its human rights record.”

Bahrain’s National Dialogue is scheduled to begin on July 1 in Manama. However, hundreds of Shi’ite political leaders are currently languishing in prison and the largest opposition bloc, led by political party Wefaq, has not confirmed its participation.

On June 22, a military court convicted eight Shi’ite activists for plotting to overthrow the monarchy and sentenced them to life in prison. Thirteen other activists were also convicted of the same charges and received harsh sentences ranging from five to 15 years in prison. Many of those sentenced were prominent political and human rights figures, including Hassan Mushaima, leader of the opposition Haq Movement, human rights activist Abdul Jalil al-Singace, and Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, co-founder and former president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. Ibrahim Sharif, leader of the National Democratic Action Society (Wa’ad) was the only Sunni convicted. He received a sentence of five years.

Meanwhile, the government is proceeding with the trial of 28 doctors and nurses on openly political charges of allegedly aiding and abetting the protestors and spreading false information. On June 27, witnesses for the defense were denied permission to testify. A separate trial of another 20 medical professionals accused of plotting against the government is also proceeding in a military court.

In addition, credible reports of the torture of political activists at the hands of Bahrain security forces continue to surface regularly. Among these is Dr. Nada Dhaif, a dental surgeon and sister of journalist Lamees Dhaif, who was arrested after providing medical support to wounded protestors and reportedly tortured while in jail because of her sister’s outspoken criticism.

“Freedom House calls on the Bahraini government to cease its intimidation and mistreatment of political opponents and to use the opportunity presented by the National Dialogue to initiate genuine and far reaching political reforms,” continued Dunne. “Furthermore, the U.S. government should hold Bahrain fully accountable for the ongoing repression and insist both publicly and privately on specific, measurable reforms to advance freedom and human rights in the country.”

Bahrain is ranked Not Free in Freedom in the World 2011, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2011.

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