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Survivor's guilt and loneliness: the life of an activist in exile

The first time I had to leave Bahrain, I was given 24 hours to do so and told not to tell anyone. My father had been informed that my name was coming up during interrogations of political detainees, and that is usually a sign that arrest will follow. 

I left for London in September 2010 with a heavy heart, determined to return. And so, after the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East began, I was active in calling for protests in Bahrain, and I returned home to take part in them.

The second time I left Bahrain, my father had convinced me that it was critical to have someone carry the voices of the movement outside the country. I felt the weight of the entire uprising on my shoulders. I thought my exile was temporary; I had no idea that it would not be.


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Bahrain: Release Rights Activist

Bahraini authorities should immediately release the human rights activist Nabeel Rajab, Human Rights Watch said today. Rajab’s trial is scheduled to resume on December 15, 2016, on charges that inherently violate the right to free expression. Among Bahrain’s allies only the United States has publicly called for his release.

Rajab was arrested on June 13 for comments on his Twitter account that criticized Bahrain’s participation in Saudi Arabia-led military operations in Yemen. At the last hearing on October 31, the court ordered an Interior Ministry technical expert to determine whether Rajab had posted the comments. Because the court has repeatedly rejected Rajab’s request to be released on bail, he will have spent more than six months in pre-trial detention by the time the court is expected to deliver its verdict, which could result in a prison sentence of up to 15 years.

“Rajab shouldn’t have been arrested in the first place and countries like the UK, France, and Germany should be loudly calling for his immediate release,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Keeping him in detention for all these months while the government seeks an expert opinion only compounds the injustice.”


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Bahrain Al Wefaq Head Ali Salman’s Unfair 9-Year Sentence Upheld

An appeals court today upheld the arbitrary 9-year sentence against opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman following an extended and flawed re-trial. The Bahraini government ordered a retrial of the leader of Al-Wefaq in October, but these free expression-related convictions upheld today reflect Bahrain’s continued failure to adhere to international standards of human rights. It comes days after the UK Prime Minister, UK Foreign Secretary and US Defence Secretary were in Bahrain for security talks. We, the undersigned, condemn Sheikh Ali Salman’s imprisonment on politically motivated charges related to free expression and call for his immediate release.

Sheikh Ali Salman is the leader of Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, the largest political group in the country. He was arrested in December 2014 and in June 2015, a criminal court sentenced him to four years in prison on a litany of charges including inciting hatred against the regime. In his initial trial, the court acquitted him on the more serious charge of inciting revolution.

The prosecution appealed his acquittal, and on 30 May 2016 the higher appeals court changed its previous decision, convicting him of inciting revolution and increasing his sentence to nine years. Specifically, the court sentenced him to 7 years on the three charges of “inciting change of the regime,” “inciting hatred against a sector of society,” “inciting criminal activities,” and sentenced him to 2 years on a fourth charge of “insulting a statutory body.” This decision came on the day former Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond visited Bahrain and met with the country’s King, where he publicly praised Bahrain’s”commitment to continuing reforms”. The Court of Cassation ordered today’s retrial of the appeal in October 2016, which reconfirmed the May 2016 judgement.

The United Nation Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) declared Sheikh Salman was arbitrarily detained by the Bahraini government. The decision, which cites both free expression and due process concerns, requests that the Bahraini government release Sheikh Salman immediately, and provide him with an enforceable right to compensation against the government.

Al Wefaq is the largest political party in the country and won over 60% of the vote in the 2010 General Election, winning 18 of 40 seats, and which was recently dissolved by the Bahraini government. Al Wefaq’s 18 MPs resigned from the largely powerless National Assembly in protest of the Bahraini government’s violent response to Arab Spring protests in 2011, and subsequently participated in reconciliation dialogues with the government. However, these dialogues collapsed in 2014, and Al Wefaq’s opposition bloc chose to boycott that year’s general election, the first after the Arab Spring. Sheikh Ali Salman’s arrest came just a month after the November 2014 elections.

The Bahraini Ministry of Justice ordered the dissolution of Al-Wefaq following court proceedings in June 2016. The society’s accounts have been frozen and physical property repossessed. In September, the government announced it would liquidate Al-Wefaq’s property at auction, but has yet to carry out these measures.

In addition to Al-Wefaq and Sheikh Ali Salman, the Bahraini government has targeted additional opposition political figures and societies. Fadhel Abbas, the Secretary-General of Al-Wahdawi, is serving a 3-year prison sentence for calling the Saudi war in Yemen, in which Bahrain is a belligerent, unconstitutional. The National Democratic Action Society – Wa’ad – has been under threat, with their leader banned from travel and repeatedly subject to police questioning in the past year. Ebrahim Sharif, the former Secretary General of Wa’ad, served 4 years in prison following his arrest, torture and prosecution by military court in 2011; he served another year in prison after he called for sustained peaceful opposition in July 2015, and was charged again in November 2015 after he criticised Prince Charles of the United Kingdom’s visit to Bahrain. These latest charges were dropped following pressure from the United Kingdom.

The government has subjected major political leaders to repeated judicial harassment since before 2011. Among those currently imprisoned are most members of the “Bahrain 13” – a group of high-profile political leaders and activists, including Hassan Mushaima, leader of the Haq Movement. Like Ebrahim Sharif, an original member of the Bahrain 13, authorities arrested, tortured, and prosecuted these activists on politically-motivated charges. A military court convicted the Bahrain 13 in 2011, and a civil appeals courts upheld the sentences in 2012.

International Context

The court’s decision to sentence Sheikh Ali Salman to 9 years in prison comes days after two major security conferences held in Bahrain. Last week, UK Prime Minister Theresa May was in Bahrain for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Leaders Summit. She did not raise human rights concerns in her speech, instead telling GCC leaders: “I want to leave no-one in any doubt about the scale of my ambition or the extent of my determination to establish the strongest possible trading relationships between the UK and the Gulf.”

UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was also in Bahrain for a separate security forum, the Manama Dialogue, during which he declared that “Britain is back from East of Suez”, alluding to the UK’s colonial past in Bahrain. He also failed to address human rights.

Additionally, US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter also travelled to the Manama Dialogue and met with Bahrain’s King Hamad last week. While the US has previously called for Sheikh Ali Salman’s release, the Secretary of Defense does not appear to have raised the case during his visit.

The Bahraini government is empowered by its allies’ continued silence in the face of escalating repression. The penal code criminalises free expression by setting punishments for, among other ‘crimes’, “insulting statutory bodies”, “insulting the King” and “insulting the flag of Bahrain” – legislation that the authorities have used to restrict nearly all independent activities relating to politics, civil society, and human rights.

NGO Condemnation

Bahrain has violated Sheikh Ali Salman’s freedom from arbitrary detention, right to a fair trial, and right to political participation, as defined under articles 2, 9 and 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and articles 9, 14, 25 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

We, the undersigned, condemn this upheld sentence and call on Bahrain to:

  • Release Sheikh Ali Salman immediately, dropping all charges
  • Reverse the decision to dissolve Al-Wefaq
  • Halt the harassment of political and civil society figures in Bahrain
  • Release all political prisoners

We call on Bahrain’s allies, the United Kingdom and United States to:

  • Condemn Sheikh Ali Salman’s unfair trial and call for his release
  • Call for the release of all political prisoners
  • Use political leverage to the benefit of human rights in Bahrain


Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy
European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights

Islamic State calls for attacks on U.S. base in tense Bahrain as Carter visit nears



DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – The Islamic State group is calling on its followers to launch attacks in Bahrain and to target American military personnel stationed on the tiny island ahead of a visit by the U.S. defense secretary.

The appeal came in a video that also urges militants to attack the Sunni-ruled island’s Shiite majority, amid a widescale government crackdown on dissent.

In a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday, Bahrain’s government said it “remains vigilant against terrorist activities and extremism.”

It’s been five years since Bahrain’s 2011 Arab Spring protests, which saw Shiites and others demand more political freedoms from the ruling Al Khalifa family. The government put down the demonstrations with help from Saudi and Emirati troops, and later pledged to carry out reforms.

In the time since, sectarianism has grown on the island and the Sunni-dominated government is in the midst of a crackdown on unrest at a level unseen since 2011.

Authorities have suspended the country’s largest Shiite opposition group, Al-Wefaq, and doubled a prison sentence for its secretary-general. Human rights activists, Shiite leaders and others have been imprisoned, lost their citizenship or been forced into exile.

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Leaked: UK think tank secretly received £25m from Bahrain

A British research institute has received £25 million in cash from the Bahraini government since 2011, leaked documents published in the Guardian show.

The documents also suggest that the Bahraini royal family has agreed to keep the majority of the donations secret. It is thought that the Manama government donated the large sum as a political lobbying mechanism. It is alleged that the secret Bahraini donations account for over a quarter of IISS’ income. Since the report has been leaked, many questions about the research credibility of IISS have been raised. Many have accused IISS of undermining its political independence and expressed their mistrust of the institute.

Bahrain is notorious for its crackdown on freedom of speech and other rights, after what was suspected to be an Iran-backed revolt of primarily Shia Bahrainis was crushed in 2011.

Since then, journalists, academics and citizens who speak out against the government have been systematically arrested and allegedly tortured while in prison for their dissent.

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British thinktank received £25m from Bahraini royals, documents reveal

A British thinktank that bills itself as a global authority on military and diplomatic affairs has been accused of jeopardising its independence after leaked documents showed it has secretly received £25m from the Bahraini royal family, which has been criticised for its poor human rights record.

Confidential documents seen by the Guardian show that the country’s repressive rulers donated the sum to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) over the last five years.

Bahrain gained independence from Britain in 1971 and is ruled by the Khalifa dynasty, which has been castigated by campaigners for presiding over deteriorating human rights. During May’s visit to the country campaigners have again highlighted the Bahraini state’s crackdowns on journalists and pro-democracy activists.

The campaigners have criticised Bahrain’s rulers for dissolving the main political party, jailing and torturing activists, and persecuting opposition supporters and clerics.

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- The Islamic State group is calling on its followers to launch attacks in Bahrain and to target American military personnel stationed on the tiny island ahead of a visit by the U.S. defense secretary.

It's been five years since Bahrain's 2011 Arab Spring protests, which saw Shiites and others demand more political freedoms from the ruling Al Khalifa family. The government put down the demonstrations with help from Saudi and Emirati troops, and later pledged to carry out reforms.

Authorities have suspended the country's largest Shiite opposition group, Al-Wefaq, and doubled a prison sentence for its secretary-general. Human rights activists, Shiite leaders and others have been imprisoned, lost their citizenship or been forced into exile.

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When Bahrain Books Trump Ballroom, Critics See Attempt to Curry Favor

Just four blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House, diplomats from oil-rich Bahrain entertained guests in a lavish ballroom at the Trump International Hotel Wednesday, an event that critics said embodied growing concerns about foreign leaders booking Trump properties to try and curry favor with the next American president.

“I’m very concerned about it,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee. “If folks want to win favor with the president, they go to his hotel. When they meet up with him, the first thing they will say is ‘we are staying at your hotel, we took out 30 rooms for a week.’”

It is not known what motivated Bahraini officials to move their annual “Bahrain Day” celebration from the Ritz Carlton to the Trump Hotel – embassy officials did not respond to phone and email messages. They were equally tight-lipped Wednesday, where the event went off behind heavy security.

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Why Theresa May Is Doubly Wrong About Human Rights

This week the Prime Minister is off to Bahrain to address a Summit of the Gulf Co-operation Council, the regional organisation that brings together Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman. Ahead of this important exchange, Theresa May has suggested that Britain should focus on trade and not complicate our negotiations with difficult discussions around human rights, labour standards or environmental protection. However, she couldn’t be more wrong - new research demonstrates that when we care about people and planet, our trade flows benefit.

The government will soon be on the frontline to defend the UK’s trading interests abroad and protect workers from undercutting at home. The government will also be tasked with the tough job of promoting human rights and sustainable development across the globe. This is not just some Brussels-inspired fancy, but a long-standing British tradition that predates our membership of the EU. Our country has something to bring to the world that goes way beyond shipments of goods or the delivery of services.

Human rights makes good economic sense: a study presented this week in Brussels by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) shows that trade agreements that include strong labour standards actually increase trade more than agreements that are limited to tariff reductions and quotas.

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Don’t be surprised that Theresa May is visiting Bahrain – after Brexit, we’re in a Faustian pact over human rights abuse

In the bleak midwinter, who would begrudge a weary Prime Minister the chance to stock up on the Vitamin D on a battery-recharging mini-break to the sun-kissed Persian Gulf?

Bidding brief farewell to the drudgery of PMQs and that catfight in the Supreme Court, Theresa May has nipped off to Bahrain for a bit of harmless fun with her hosts and King Salman of Saudi Arabia.

Officially, May will be doing some light finger-wagging at the Bahrainis over human rights, one of those western fads which is as stubbornly slow to catch on in that country as elsewhere in the region. “I think the UK has always had the position, and we continue to have the position,” she says, “that where there are issues raised about human rights … we will rightly raise those.” 

Using my trusty Disingenuous Blethering-English Dictionary, I am able translate that as follows: “Look, mate, we all know these people are brutes, and as a churchgoing vicar’s daughter I really wish I could tell them so. But if you think I’d offend them, when the post-Brexit economy heavily depends on ingratiating ourselves with these oil-rich horrors, you’re a child without a clue how this wicked world works.”

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