Update: Bahrain will hold parliamentary elections on Saturday. Opposition groups including Al-Wefaq will boycott the vote, as leading member Abdul-Jalil Khalil told the Associated Press “”These elections are destined to fail because the government is incapable of addressing the political crisis. The next parliament is going to be powerless and unrepresentative.”
In October, a Bahraini court suspended all Al-Wefaq activities for three months, including hosting rallies or press conferences. Just weeks before US State Department official Tom Malinowski was ordered to leave Bahrain after meeting with Al-Wefaq leaders.
In the last elections, held in 2010, before Arab Spring protests, the Bahraini governement claimed 67 percent voter turnout. Many doubt whether turnout will be as great to help narrow down the 419 candidates.
Bahrain human rights activist Zainab Al-Khawaja was released from prison on Wednesday after spending five weeks imprisoned. Al-Khawaja, who is more than eight months pregnant, must return to court on 4 and 9 December for her sentencing.
Al-Khawaja was arrested on 14 October after she ripped a picture of the king in court, where she faced charges for insulting the king.
“I am the daughter of a proud and free man,” Al-Khawaja said in court. “My mother brought me into this world free, and I will give birth to a free baby boy even if it is inside our prisons. It is my right, and my responsibility as a free person, to protest against oppression and oppressors.”
Maryam Al-Khawaja, Zainab’s sister, spoke with Index last month, urging the UK to speak out against human rights violations in Bahrain.
“It isn’t that the people who are being arrested will stop doing what they do, because I don’t think that they will and I think the past four years have been evidence to that,” Maryam said. “My worry is that those people become voiceless. Those people become people who are not heard or seen or cared about. Because that’s when the Bahraini government will find the platform to do whatever they want to do to those people. ”
Maryam also spent time in prison recently and will return to court on 1 December. Their father remains imprisoned.
Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), was recently released on bail after his 1 October arrest. Rajab was imprisoned for “denigrating government institutions” on Twitter.
The GCHR released a statement calling for Rajab’s charges to be dropped.
“Bahrain has made international commitments to protect freedom of expression, yet it continues to jail human rights defenders who are simply exercising their right to free speech, whether via twitter or while speaking internationally about Bahrain’s problems,” said Khalid Ibraham, co-director of GCHR.
Rajab must return to court on 20 January 2015 and may not leave Bahrain until then.
Rajab was released in May after spending two years in prison for “making offensive tweets and taking part in illegal protests.”