Bahrain government continues brutal crackdown

 The main Shiite opposition party in Bahrain has said it will boycott the proposed “national dialogue” next month and will also sit out the planned September elections. Al Wefaq leader Shaikh Ali Salman said it was a protest against the government for not doing enough to address Shiite concerns. “There has to be real dialogue that results in political reforms,” Salman said. “We believe the dialogue was a step forward for the country but setting conditions before the process is not acceptable.” Salman told Chinese news agency Xinhua they would not take part in the 24 September elections because the “issues faced by people is more important and is still ignored”. He also said the government needed to address sacking of workers, arrests of doctors and nurses, lawmakers and other citizens before entering any dialogue.
(photo of Shaikh Ali Salman by Hasan Jamali)
The national dialogue forum starts on Saturday. It is aiming to attract 300 participants bringing together the full spectrum of Bahrain’s political, social, economic and rights groups. According to Dubai’s Gulf News, the participation rate of invitees is 94 percent. But Al Wefaq was the big undecided group suspicious the wide variety of issues on the table would diminish the chances of agreeing on real democratisation. It was also allowed only five representatives out of 300 total delegates.This is despite Al Wefaq being Bahrain’s largest party winning 18 of the 40 seats in last year’s parliamentary election. However they are regularly outvoted by a bloc of Sunni parties and independents. In February, all 18 Al Wefaq MPs resigned after seven people were killed by security forces in the battle for Pearl Roundabout (now razed and known as Al Farooq junction). The Government crushed the rebellion in March with troops from Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

On 1 June, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa announced the lifting of a “state of national safety” he had decreed and offered talks. Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Khalifa went to the Oval Office a week later to meet President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton to seek support for the national dialogue. Bahrain is home to the US Fifth Fleet so the US has been cautious about attacking the regime despite condemning the security crackdown. The State Department formally welcomed the talks on 15 June. However Assistant Secretary Michael Posner told Bahraini hosts meaningful dialogue could only take place “in a climate of respect for the freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.”

This was a veiled reference to trials and military court proceedings initiated by the government to deal with 500 people arrested since the February protest. On Monday Bahrain launched a mass trial of 28 doctors and nurses accused of joining the protests and spreading “false information” which is code for speaking to foreign media. Another 20 doctors and nurses are accused of alleged anti-state plots. On 22 June, a special security court in Bahrain sentenced eight activists and opposition leaders to life in prison on charges of “plotting to overthrow the government”.

A special military court called the Court of National Safety came into being on 12 June to hold politically motivated cases against opposition members of parliament and a prominent defence lawyer. According to Amnesty International the courts were a response to the protests and are presided by one military and two civilian judges. The court sentenced a young female activist to a year in prison for charges related to her public recital of a poem critical of Bahrain’s King.

Two Al Wefaq MPs are also among those arrested and kept in secret solitary confinement. There was no legal representation or family present. Human Rights Watch called on Bahrain to end the proceedings. “Most defendants hauled before Bahrain’s special military court are facing blatantly political charges, and trials are unfair,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The Crown Prince may be sincere in his efforts to promote dialogue, but what good is that while back home the government is crushing peaceful dissent and locking up people who should be part of the dialogue.”

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