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Orwellian tirade from the only two “Bahraini Citizens” that have never felt ‘less repressed”

Bahrainis have never felt less repressed..!
26 November, 2012 – Gulf Daily News

When Amnesty International describes a “worsening situation” in Bahrain in its latest report, most Bahrainis will wonder what it is talking about.

With celebrations of the Muslim New Year and the Shi’ite holy month of Muharram and Ashoora over the past couple of weeks, Bahrain has enjoyed some of the calmest days since trouble broke out in February 2011.

The streets have been mostly free of protests, Gulf tourists flooded in to enjoy Bahraini hospitality and many hard-pressed small businesses turned a decent profit for the first time in months.

Arguably, it is all a question of perspective. Sitting thousands of miles away in Geneva, ticking boxes on a clipboard, perhaps it’s not all that obvious how most Bahrainis are feeling about developments in their country.

And Amnesty’s concerns about the temporary halt to licensing protests and withdrawal of citizenship of certain people deserve serious consideration.

However, its report dangerously mixes together two separate issues – implementation of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report it wrongly asserts has been shelved and measures to restore life to normal and use the judicial process against those who broke the law.

Let’s first look at the government’s record in implementing BICI recommendations, which Amnesty dismisses so cynically:

Abuses: About 17 police officers, including high-ranking ones, faced trial over torture or violence charges. Those found guilty face prison. A further 30 security personnel face charges and the new Special Investigation Unit is probing about 122 cases.

Unfair dismissal: About 98 per cent of protesters dismissed from jobs have been reinstated.

Compensation: About $6 million has been disbursed to 36 families of those who died and in 116 cases of injury.

Torture: The Penal Code has been amended to ensure the definition of torture is clear and rigorous and loopholes don’t allow violators to escape justice.

Retraining and reforming the security sector: Thousands of policemen have received human rights training and a robust new code of conduct has been put in place.

Retraining judges: Extensive training based on global standards has been provided to judges.

Reconciliation: Initiatives include $500,000 for non-governmental organisations for reconciliation programmes and legislation against inciting hatred, racism and religious intolerance.

Places of worship: Around 30 sites damaged are being rebuilt. In the remaining cases, issues related to planning status and title deeds are being resolved.

Freedom of expression: A new legislation protects journalists and stipulates civilians can’t be penalised for expressing their views. The Public Prosecution dropped all charges that overlapped with freedom of opinion in 334 cases.

Constitutional reform: A new legislation empowers MPs to interrogate and sack ministers and strike down government policies.

The government says it has implemented more than 140 of 176 BICI recommendations. Many awaiting full implementation require cultural change and will take time.

What Amnesty calls spiralling repression broadly refers to measures to restore calm and stability.

To the degree which they have succeeded, these measures have been popular amongst the majority of Bahrainis who want to get on with their lives after two years of disturbances, rioting and political and economic paralysis.

Amnesty is wrong in sweepingly paint anyone detained as a human rights defender. It refuses to consider the charges these people face, including inciting violence, organising illegal demonstrations and seeking to forcibly overthrow the government.

Several of the most notorious people publicly put their names to a plan to violently instal an Islamic republic.

Admittedly, Twitter-related charges against Nabeel Rajab were ridiculous, and thankfully, rejected by the courts. Likewise, due judicial process should be allowed to take its course to decide the innocence or guilt of others.

Amnesty cites case studies in its extensive report and makes recommendations, some of which deserve consideration by authorities.

‘Citizens for Bahrain’ agrees with it that the government here, like all governments, needs to continuously scrutinise and improve its human rights record and address shortcomings.

It shares Amnesty’s concerns over measures in recent months, such as the withdrawal of citizenship of 31 people. Any such step should only be considered if it is demonstrably in the public interest and taken against people proved to be a danger to the public.

By failing to produce evidence to justify such measures, the government only weakens its ability to argue that they are appropriate, proportionate and necessary.

Where we disagree with Amnesty is it is discussing BICI recommendations as if they exclusively relate to the handful of issues it is campaigning noisily.

By concentrating on the temporary protest ban and prisoners of conscience and giving an unfairly negative spin to ongoing trials of police officers accused of abuses, Amnesty presents an unfairly skewed picture of the situation.

Key BICI recommendations tackled the issues of unfair dismissals of protesters, destruction of holy sites, compensation and reforming the security and judiciary sectors.

Amnesty was rightly vocal about these issues 12 months ago. However, now they have been resolved.

Reforms are being conveniently ignored because they don’t fit the picture Amnesty wants to portray – of a nasty regime brutally repressing its citizens.

In fact, we citizens are reaping the benefits of these reforms and the much-maligned measures to restore order. We’ve never felt less repressed!

Human rights shortcomings here are infinitely less sensational and scandalous than catastrophic abuses in Syria, Myanmar and Iran.

While Amnesty understandably wants to keep Bahrain in the forefront of public attention, not necessarily a bad thing, it is wrong to grossly miscontextualise the situation to achieve the goal.

Bahraini citizens


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