By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
MANAMA, Bahrain–In a televised speech to his nation, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa made a pledge on Sunday 28 August to release protesters. The Bahrain government will dismiss charges against some people detained during a deadly government crackdown against pro-democracy demonstrators earlier this year.
The king gave this address as the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan comes to a close. This month has greatly contributed to the restoration of the unity and structure of the nation. The recalling of traditional exchanges, compassion, and brotherhood has peaked hope among the rift that exists in Bahrain between Sunni and Shia Muslims.
King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa’s pledge comes more than six months after his regime attempted to thwart the efforts of protest demonstrators in pursuit of holistic change for the nation.
“There are those who are charged with abusing us and senior officials in Bahrain, we today announce that we forgive them. Although I do not like t0 interfere in the course of justice, I would like to confirm that all cases of civilians will have their verdicts issued by a civil court.”
While this pledge by the leader of Bahrain appears generous, he made a point of not mentioning any concessions towards Bahrain’s Shia population. The Shia population holds a majority in Bahrain and helped head up the protests against the al-Khalifa’s regime as well as setting demands. Some of these key demands are the easing of the Sunni dynasty’s stranglehold on power, the process of policy formation, and hand picking government officials.
The Shia population makes up about 70 percent of the island nation’s 525,000 citizens. Despite the majority, widespread discrimination from a multitude of situations, such as exclusion from top political and security posts, is a concern for the Shia population. It is evident that the Shia’s current situation is a stem for discontent in Bahrain and that displeasure will stay the norm until the Shia believe that the discrimination gap has closed.
Human rights groups reported that at least 32 individuals have lost their lives since the protests against al-Khalifa’s regime began. After the government crackdown, thousands of demonstrators were forced from their jobs, an apparent punishment for supporting those against the regime. Students were dismissed from schools and universities.
But al-Khalifa’s regime has seemingly attempted to make visible strides to try and repair the damage. The University of Bahrain and the Bahrain Training Institute have allowed some 340 students back while several employees were allowed back to work by their employers. But several large companies have dragged their feet to incorporate the reinstatement process.
In addition to dismissing all charges, King al-Khalifa implored all individuals who had been mistreated in custody to file a formal complaint. He confirmed that the law grants them compensation.
“Bahrain has a law that allows victims of ill-treatment to ask for compensation. The decision to setup independent fact-finding commission is the best indication of our full commitment to knowing the whole truth and to giving people their rights.”
“There are those who were arrested, and investigations proved that they were the victims of individual behavior and were ill-treated in custody. This is not tolerated by God and we do not condone it. The recent period was painful to all of us. Although we live in one country, some have forgotten the inevitability of co-existence. Therefore, we should not abandon our belief in having the same and common future, and should not lose trust in each other as brother, colleagues, and citizens.”
Bahraini security forces, bolstered by Saudi led troops from around the Gulf, demolished protests earlier this year in March after allowing demonstrators to camp out in central Manama for about thirty days.
The protests in Bahrain are sort of viewed differently by the international community than the rest of the Arab Spring. The crackdown on protests was heavily criticized by the US but the rest of the international community did not show the same level of support as it has done for protests in other countries. The West has traditionally blamed Iran for instigating the protests in an effort to cause dissent within Bahrain. But the Shia majority within the country has harshly denied this claim.
In July, Bahrain officials opened reconciliation talks with Shia leader in an effort to assuage the anxiety and hear the Shia party’s demands. But unsatisfied with the progress, the Shia party walked out and threatened to bring further protests.
Perhaps some of this dissatisfaction comes from the continued turmoil of the 20 doctors and nurses arrested earlier this year for treating demonstrators from protests. These doctors and nurses were also accused of stockpiling medical supplies and weapons. On 28 August, a special security court resumed the trial for these 20 doctors. The court adjourned the trial until 07 September, when it will begin hearing defense witnesses.
The 20 doctors and nurses in this situation are among at least 45 medical personnel whom face charges stemming from the anti-government protests. Various human rights groups have heavily scrutinized Bahrain’s usage of a special security court for this manner.
For more information, please see:
Al-Jazeera-Bahrain king pardons some protesters-28 August 2011
Associated Press-Bahrain’s king pardoning some protesters-28 August 2011
CNN-‘Arab Spring’ becoming the Arab Year?-25 August 2011
Gulf News-Bahrain king calls for more tolerance-28 August 2011
Human Rights First-Bahrain Government Makes U-turn on Military Courts-22 August 2011
Impunity Watch-Military Court in Bahrain Pursues Physicians For Giving Treatment to Protesters-16 June 2011
Human Rights Watch-Bahrain: Stop Military Court Travesty of Justice-14 June 2011
The Guardian-Bahrain doctors deny stealing medicines or stockpiling arms-13 June 2011