Thursday, August 16, 2012

Remember Mubarak?

US silence and a harassment campaign of “political decisions” by Bahrain’s judiciary system are responsible for the three-year jail sentence handed down to the country’s leading human rights defender today for participating in an “illegal gathering and calling for a march without prior notification.”

In a statement, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Gulf Center for Human Rights, said ”When Nabeel Rajab was attacked and beaten by security forces during a protest in January 2012, there was an instant reaction from the US State Department and he was immediately released. He then received representatives of the US embassy in Manama in a visit to his home. When Nabeel Rajab was arrested and imprisoned in May 2012, there was no response from the US administration. As the attacks against Nabeel Rajab escalated, the silent reaction from the US administration continued.”

The King of Bahrain, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, a Sunni Muslim who rules over a tiny country whose majority is Shia, has been playing a conventional but well implemented PR game with the international community. And it seems it’s being successful, especially with the US.
Step One: The King’s strategy launched with his appointing a commission of outsiders – led by a renowned Egyptian judge – to investigate the human rights situation and call attention to abuses. It was to be no holds barred and the King promised to correct injustices in the system.

The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), paid for by the government itself and led by Professor Emeritus at De Paul University M. Cherif Bassiouni, found wide-ranging and grave violations of prisoners' human rights committed by government personnel. These include, but are not limited to, civilian deaths attributed to security forces, arbitrary detention, destruction and theft of property on arrest, prisoner injuries consistent with torture, and a deliberate practice of mistreatment by state agents. What is also notable about the BICI is that it does not call for the release of political prisoners. The King accepted the reports, warts and all.
Step Two: The second step was hiring a bunch of New York- and London-based PR high profile firms to communicate all the wonderful things King Hamad was doing. They had taken on a similar job for the King of Saudi Arabia, that neighboring bastion of freedom.

There were reports of dialogue between the protestors and all the king’s men. There were promises of more transparency, more representation, more liberty.

Step Three: So almost every day, I find in my email inbox a highly professional-looking press release reporting on the King’s latest beneficent act or agreement with his opposition. Even reports from the opposition says the King has remained calm and reasoned during these discussions.

Then there are what I recognize as special distraction press releases, like the one that arrived today. It was headed, " King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain ratified the kingdom's first child protection law Tuesday (August 7th),” Bahrain's Al-Watan reported.

According to a statement issued by Bahrain's Royal Court, the law has 69 articles that aim to protect children and their mothers.
It addresses children's health care, health records, nutrition, foster homes, safety, education, rehabilitation for handicapped children, protection against abuse and penalties for any violation of the law.

And sidebars – we must have sidebars to look professional.

Bahrain to investigate cases of torture

Bahrain king denounces 'foreign plot'

Five Bahrain police officers accused of torture

The law was approved by the legislature.

And for the coup de grace – making Parliament more democratic. Parliament has ratified amendments to Bahrain's constitution, with the monarch-led government hoping the new measures will defuse turmoil in the strategic Gulf state.
Opposition groups dismissed the extra powers given to parliament on Thursday as not enough, describing the moves as merely symbolic.

"The process of reform that marked the beginning of my tenure in power will not stop," said the Sunni monarch who succeeded to the throne of the Shia-majority kingdom in 1999.
"We hope in this important period that all forces and groups will assess their actions and join the process of progress and reforms," he said.
"Doors remain open to dialogue, which is aimed at achieving a national accord," he added, alluding to the Shia-led opposition that spearheaded months of pro-democracy protests that were crushed with deadly force in March last year.
According to the amendments, the king now has to consult the heads of the elected parliament and the appointed Consultative Council before dissolving the legislature.

The elected chamber alone now has the right to vote to withhold its co-operation from the prime minister and refer its decision to the king, who then has the final choice on whether to dismiss the premier or keep him in post.

But the amendments fall far short of the demands of the opposition, which has been pushing for an elected government and the scrapping of the appointed upper house.
"The king remains the one to appoint and dismiss the government," said Abdul Jalil Khalil, a leading member of the main Shia opposition group, Al-Wefaq.

The opposition wants "a single-chamber parliament that is elected, just as the constitution of 1973 stipulated", he added.

So: So far, the US has given Bahrain a giant get-out-of-jail-free card. All the signs point to our State Department being snookered by the King and all his trappings.

But how long ago was it the US was trying to show solidarity with those “loyal allies” who would bring “stability” to the region and nurture The Arab Spring into full flower?

Egypt? Tunisia? Yemen? Libya? Syria?
First, we petted these sleeping tigers until they bit us. We always had the military of these states with us, because from us they get the arms to kill their citizens.

But how about THE PEOPLE? The people we are supposed to be defending, nurturing, speaking out for – do they have any legitimate claims? Do you know? Have we looked?

Well, a few of us have. Amongst the 535 cowering souls we elected to Congress, 19 – yes, only 19 – had the guts to speak out against injustice in Bahrain.

In a letter to the King, the 19 Congress persons said: “Nineteen members of the U.S. Congress have written to Bahrain’s king to call for the release of prominent human rights activist Nabeel Rajab, who is currently serving a three-month jail sentence for making anti-government statements on Twitter.

Signatories inljuded Keith Ellison, who organized the project, and Patrick Leahy, JohnConyers, Ron Wyden, Rau Grijalva, Alcee Hastings, Rush Holt, Michael Honda, Barbara Lee, Zoe Lofgren, Carol Maloney, Jim McDermott, P. McGove, P. Moran, John Oliver, and Charles Wrangel.

Several other prominent rights groups including U.S.-based Human Rights First have also called for his release. They included the Congressional bloc known as the Tom Lantos Human Rights Group.

But I suspect the King will ignore these pleas. Instead, he will conjure up some magical new law – or abolish one – that gives Bahrainis cause for hope.

This is PR 101.

Remember Mubarak?