Silence over torture in Bahrain

Believe it or not but a funny thing happened at the 16th Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit in Tehran last month. When the new Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, denounced the “oppressive” Syrian government, it didn’t go down so well with the pro-Assad Iranians. So, local journalists decided deliberately to mistranslate “Syria”, in Farsi, as “Bahrain”, prompting the latter to feign outrage.

The problem for the Bahrainis is that their government is indeed “oppressive” and therefore lends itself to such easy substitution. Over the past 18 months, Bahraini security forces, aided by troops from Saudi Arabia, have engaged in a brutal crackdown against the island nation’s own Syria-style uprising. Bahrain is home to the Arab Spring’s forgotten revolution. Since February 2011, there have been near-daily protests against the regime, a repressive Sunni monarchy ruling over a Shia-majority country. These have been met with tear gas, live ammunition, mass arrests and torture. While the fighting in Syria is debated in the corridors of the United Nations building and reported on the front pages of the world’s newspapers, the unrest in Bahrain is quietly ignored by our leaders and relegated by journalists to the box marked “news in brief”.

“[The violence] has got worse,” Maryam al- Khawaja, acting president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, tells me during a rare visit to London. “The Bahraini regime has made some superficial changes but the situation on the ground hasn’t changed . . . Torture has moved from official torture centres to unofficial torture centres.”

The death toll

Apologists for the Bahraini regime claim it is offensive to compare the moderate, pro-western king, Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, to the Assads or Gaddafis of this world. They point out that the death toll in Syria is far, far higher than in Bahrain. True, says Khawaja, “[but] one of the things you have to do is look at things per capita. Bahrain’s population is 600,000 and you are looking at 100 people dead. If Bahrain had the same population as, say, Egypt, that’s [equivalent to] more than 11,000 people dead in just a year and a half.” Read more


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