Abdulhadi Alkhawaja was arrested on 9 April 2011. He was dragged from his house and beaten by 20 masked men along with his two sons in law, while his daughters and wife were insulted, assaulted and locked in a room. In may he was given life in prison along with other prominent opposition leaders for “organising and managing a terrorist organisation”, “attempting to overthrow the government by force and in liaison with a terrorist organisation working for a foreign country” and the “collection of money for a terrorist group”. This was not the first time he had been charged with attempting to overthrow the government for talking publicly about human rights abuses in Bahrain. It seems that the government of Bahrain believe their regime to be so weak that even speaking the truth about them risks bringing down the whole system.
Since that time, the BICI report has shown that there is no evidence of any Iranian involvement in the Bahrain uprising. This fact renders the presence of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) troops in Bahrain unlawful, as they are only supposed to be used to defend against foreign invasions, and shows the sentences of the main opposition leaders to be based on purely political charges.
In December 2011, Nigel Rodley, who had been part of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, released a statement saying that the BICI report intended that the sentences of all political prisoners should be annulled. Unfortunately, the Foreign Minister of Bahrain, in a recent highly defensive response to a letter I wrote with Denis MacShane MP, has stated that “There is no political prisoner in Bahrain today. Not a single person is awaiting trial for political protest or activity or for exercising her or his right to free speech and assembly.”
Does this man really believe what he is saying? Is he just lying or is he really so blinded (as those at the top of autocratic regimes often are) to the truth.
Abdulhadi Alhkawaja, his brother, son in law and one of his daughters have all been in jail. He has gone on hungerstrike numerous times, hospitalising himself in the process. Now he is on hungerstrike again for the anniversary of the uprising, telling his family in a phone call that he will be willing to die for his freedom. The cruelty displayed by the Bahraini government is astounding, and one of the reasons why they have been listed as one of the 10 most repressive regimes by Reporters Without Borders.
John Lubbock is a graduate in international politics and human rights MA at City University, London and research and advocacy officer for the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights in London. He tweets@jwsal