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Bahraini Regime Strangling Dissent

Trade union members, journalists and opposition parties are being systematically silenced by the authorities.
By Mohammed Alkafri
  • A Bahraini opposition movement poster. (Photo: Crethi Plethi)
    A Bahraini opposition movement poster. (Photo: Crethi Plethi)

In the past month, hundreds of workers have been fired from government ministries for opposing the regime by taking part in strikes and protests.

After the trade unions announced an official strike on March 16 to support workers targeted by the regime and Shia protesters occupying Manama’s Pearl roundabout, security forces began a campaign of arrests, beatings and detentions. Checkpoints have been established all over the country in accordance with the martial law decree and anyone who was absent from work between March 15 and 17 has been fired.

Six members of the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Union, GFBTU, board have also been sacked from their positions in government companies for their role in the strikes. Many of those workers to have been detained did not take part in the protests, but have been arrested for allegedly supporting opposition groups.

Meanwhile, Bahrain’s national press has been co-opted by the government to prevent it from publishing anything related to the protests. Trade union and opposition leaders are being tortured and dying in jail, but none of this has been reported, since the editorial board of the only independent newspaper, Al-Wassat, was sacked or resigned in connection with the coverage of the protests.

The former editors are now in hiding, and the last month has also seen the arrest and torture of some the country’s most famous bloggers, including the so-called “blog-father” Mahmood al-Yousif. Before their arrests, they were producing hundreds of political posts every week. Some of them have been released, and their posts have become meaningless and non-political.

I started my work as journalist in 2003 as a media officer for a number of civil society groups in Bahrain, before I joined the now-defunct independent newspaper Al-Waqt in 2006.

Although I haven't officially worked as a journalist or for any civil society group for more than a year, it is still very dangerous for me to interact at all with the foreign media.

In addition to the intimidation of the media, security forces have made it so dangerous for anybody to demonstrate that the opposition is no longer taking part in protests. Along with the country’s six other opposition parties, the party that I belong to, Al-Wa’ad, has been indefinitely banned from any political activity.

The Al-Wa’ad general secretary, Ebrahim Sharif, was arrested a fortnight ago and remains in detention while the government seeks a court order to enable it to legally shut down the party.

Some small protest activities are continuing here and there, but they are not organised by political parties, and the dense police presence is making it extremely difficult for people to assemble publicly. If you walk down the street in any Shia village, you will find riot police stationed every 200 metres.

However, the situation is getting very little attention from either the foreign media or international community. Bahrainis were hoping that Al-Jazeera Arabic would provide coverage of the events here, but we haven't seen much reportage from them on the protests or abuses taking place.

In the last fortnight, the United Kingdom has been one of the few countries whose media has continually reported events.

The problem is that Gulf Cooperation Council, GCC, countries always pay more attention to the authority of the United States than Europe, and, in this case, the US establishment has been completely silent.

Every day, there is a strong statement from international trade unions, Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International condemning government brutality, but still we hear nothing from the US or the United Nations, despite opposition leaders dying in custody and in military hospitals.

But the government’s use of violent force to silence dissent has not solved anything so far and I do not believe it can. Open dialogue is the only way forward. It is what the opposition has been calling for all along, but until now, the government has offered nothing in the way of engagement, instead seeking to weaken and disperse political parties.

However, there is no future for Bahrain without a political solution to this impasse. All the power now lies with the government and they can choose to pursue political resolution if they want to.

What is most significant is that few opposition groups are calling for a revolution to kick out the ruling Al-Khalifa family. Most Bahrainis consider our king an important part of society and maintain respect for the royal family.

But at the same time, there are extremist elements within the Bahraini leadership who are abusing their powers and denying the implementation of the democratic terms of the constitution.

All that the Bahraini people and the opposition are demanding is economic reform and the application of the parliamentary powers outlined in the constitution.

The government and the national media must know and accept that we are not working to overthrow the royal family - we don't want to see our country destroyed with violent clashes and killings. Nobody wants to spend their life in detention. Our needs are for political, social and economic reform that will give the country a clear, harmonious future and more dignity and pride to all groups within Bahraini society.

Mohammed Alkafri is a pseudonym for a Bahraini journalist and member of the Sunni opposition party, Al –Wa’ad.

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