Many skeptical of Bahraini reforms, as voices are silenced
Bloggers in Bahrain are continually silenced, despite government actions that are supposed to promote human rights throughout the Middle East.
The Arab Spring has been a topic of intrigue to many as the time since its inception has only led to greater complications about the state of human rights and freedom of speech in many of the regions where protests took place. One of the countries that finds itself in the middle of this kind of situation is Bahrain.
Calls for reform answered?
When protests swept the Middle East and many other regions in February of 2011, the smell of democracy seemed to linger in the air, however, it was not long before it was masked by the stench of tyranny in Bahrain.
The country is ruled by a Sunni monarchy, despite the majority population being of Shia descent. So when many Shia led protests swept the country calling for greater freedoms and a more equal political establishment, the monarchial government appealed to neighboring countries like Saudi Arabia for support, according to Al Jazeera. As a result, excessive force was reportedly used against protestors, and the authoritative practices of the government were perpetuated.
This is why many are skeptical of the Bahraini government's recent establishment of the pan-Arab Human Rights court. While the government says that the court is an important step forward in promoting human rights throughout the region and the rest of the world, others do not believe that the court is anything but an attempt to make the government look good in the wake of its own violations. The effort looks increasingly spotty especially because it was founded, not under a democratic rule, but where monarchy still literally reigns king.
The establishment of the human rights court grows increasingly ironic when examined in the context of a recent blogger's imprisonment, and the subsequent imprisonment of his lawyer. Global Voices Advocacy Online, a global advocacy group for free speech, reports that Bahraini blogger, Mohammed Hassan has been in prison since July of 2013 after being charged with organizing and participating in protests, and "inciting hatred against the government." His computer and other electronic devices were also seized.
His lawyer said that Hassan has been subject to torture and beating during his imprisonment, and was forced to confess to crimes that he did not commit. For these claims, his lawyer was also arrested in early August. These arrests prompted another Bahraini blogger, Ali Abdulemam, to issue a statement through a Global Voices press release.
"We are asking for the release of Mohamed Hassan and all bloggers and activists who have been imprisoned because of their efforts to protect human rights and make our society more open. We should not have to sacrifice our rights to free expression and assembly for the safety and security of the state."
A pattern of censorship
Abdulemam has been subject to his own run ins with the government, which ultimately led him to flee the country all together. After the protests that took the swept the country in February of 2011, he was forced into hiding or face charges of trying to over throw the government, according to the Index on Censorship.
He started criticizing the government when he created Bahrain Online in 1998 to discuss the political situation of the country, but initially wrote anonymously. In 2011 he began to write and publish his own name, which led to trouble. He was arrested in 2005 and again in 2010, during which time he was tortured, for his writings before he finally went into hiding. Thankfully, he has recently been granted asylum in the United Kingdom.
The juxtaposition between these actions and the government's "human rights" court should give pause to the rhetoric of government, both in Bahrain and throughout the world, and actual action when it comes to free speech.