The jail population in Bahrain has more than quadrupled in the years after the failed revolt of 2011, and security agents continue to harass the kingdom’s majority-Shiite residents with mass arrests. Large groups of primarily Shiite people are jailed on a daily basis as part of a systematic crackdown on dissent, suspected of being secret agents of Iran or members of secret ‘terror’ organizations.
In March 2018, the authorities detained 116 individuals on suspicion of having links to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, just two months after another major arrest on similar terrorist-related allegations.
Bahraini courts find it extremely easy to prosecute anyone who challenge the dictatorship with terrorism and loyalty to Iran, because such allegations weaken the accused’s credibility and frame the arrest as a matter of national security. Labeling dissents as terrorists preempts human rights activists’ efforts to ensure the accused’s right to a fair trial, as few attorneys are ready to jeopardize their careers in defense of supposed terrorists. Prison guards and interrogators see terrorist allegations as a signal to employ any and all means required to get confessions. Perhaps the most damaging impact of Bahrain’s flawed justice system is the torture and cruel treatment of inmates.
One of the most heinous instances of the pattern of mass arrests followed by bogus accusations and subsequent torture occurred during the start of the government assault on the revolution in 2011. The government detained a number of Bahraini medical professionals and accused them with occupying the hospital and possessing firearms for treating injured protestors at the national Salmaniya hospital. Following a military tribunal hearing, many of the accused doctors were sentenced to jail terms of up to 15 years. Officials chained, blindfolded a doctor in an attempt to obtain a fake confession before the trial. Another doctor was forced to sign a confession in which she admitted to stealing blood bags from the hospital’s supply in order to fabricate protestors’ injuries. During their interrogations, both of these doctors, as well as numerous other torture victims, claim they were sexually harassed and threatened with rape.
Claims of torture and maltreatment of inmates in Bahrain have piqued the interest of human rights organizations. The accounts reveal a pattern of a continual and severe government crackdown aimed to frighten and repress any dissent. Not only have the government penalized good-willed doctors for treating pro-democracy protestors who were shot and assaulted by military-trained police, but they have also proceeded to target and frighten young Bahrainis in order to repress any future tendencies to resist injustices.
The Bahraini regime’s techniques in its ruthless quest to suppress the populace have sometimes gone beyond torture. On October 30, 2017, seven Bahrainis were sentenced to life in jail and deprived of their nationalities for allegedly creating a terrorist organisation in collaboration with Iran and Hezbollah, a Shiite political party and paramilitary force in Lebanon. The court declined to hear the accused’s charges of torture and coerced confessions, condemning them to a life in solitary confinement in a country they can no longer call their own. The next day, October 31, the court charged the same penalty to 10 additional people, charging them of association with terrorists.
The military presence of the United States in Bahrain only contributes to support the Bahraini government’s maltreatment of its citizens. If the US can demand better from Saudi Arabia for the cold-blooded murder of a journalist, surely it can pay attention to where its ships land and insist that Bahrain treat its people better.