It was obvious 12 months ago that sentencing human rights defender Abdulhadi Alkhawaja to life in prison after torturing him and subjecting him to a show trial before a military court was a sign of weakness and desperation from the side of Bahrain’s rulers. They were frantically trying to construct a conspiracy of foreign subversion even as all the world could see that the truth was bloody repression of peaceful protests. They even detained, tortured and prosecuted medical professionals who had had the affront to tell the truth about those who had been tortured and killed. The attempt at a cover up was a pathetic failure in spite of millions spent on Western PR agencies.
But 12 months ago it was possible to explain the desperation of Bahrain’s rulers as part of a panicked response to seeing hundreds of thousands marching in the streets demanding democracy, human rights and an end to discrimination and corruption. One year on the Government continues to dig itself into a bigger hole. The opportunity of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) which confirmed the systematic use of torture, unlawful killings and unfair trials has been squandered. Those responsible for ordering killings and torture remain in post. Unfair trials continue based on the same fabricated conspiracy allegations and “confessions” extracted by torture. It seems none of the expensively acquired advisors dare tell the rulers in their bunkers that the truth has long been out and that it is time for them to address the reality of the need for change.
One year on Abdulhadi Alkhawaja remains in prison. His courage, and the courage of so many others including the medical professionals, Nabeel Rajab, Naji Fateel and Zaynab Alkhawaja has been an inspiration to countless Bahrainis and people around the world. International condemnation of the brutal repression in Bahrain has been widespread. Bahrain’s rulers are unwelcome visitors outside the Gulf. The Bahraini economy has been severely damaged. The desperate ploy of greater integration with Saudi Arabia reeks of clutching at straws.
Human rights defenders like Abdulhadi Alkhawaja and Ali Abdulemam (who remains missing after being sentenced in absentia), will be crucial to building a better future for Bahrain.
Time to set them free and get on with the business of dealing with the underlying problems and effecting real change. Enough time has been wasted.