A report released today by the Ved Nanda Center for International and Comparative Law found that the government of Bahrain is continuing to prosecute civil society leaders in violation of international law and the recommendations of a government-appointed human rights commission. The trial of human rights attorney, Mohammad al-Tajer, is scheduled for February 7th while the appeal of labor leader, Mahdi Abu Deeb is scheduled for February 19th.
“The government of Bahrain would clearly like to sweep these cases under the rug,” said Prof. David Akerson, a lecturer at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. “But our review indicates that the government is prosecuting these civil society leaders merely for calling for democratic reforms despite repeatedly saying that it is committed to implementing the recommendations of the commission.” Akerson is a former prosecutor at the UN-International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the UN-International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
In the wake of a brutal crackdown on protestors last year, the king of Bahrain appointed an international commission to evaluate allegations of human rights violations. The commission found that roughly 300 individuals were prosecuted in violation of their right to freedom of expression. The commission also found that the government engaged in a systematic campaign to “terrorize” civil society leaders, tortured detainees and prosecuted individuals in military courts that failed to adhere to basic international and domestic due process standards. It recommended that the government release all individuals that were prosecuted merely for calling for democratic governance.
Abu Deeb led a strike in which eighty percent of Bahrain’s teachers participated. He was allegedly thrown from a building during his arrest and his tortured confession was admitted against him at trial. Al-Tajer was the subject of an intimidation campaign, including receiving a video of himself sleeping in his bed at home.
“Unlike other Arab states where massive protests have succeeded in starting the reform process, the protests in Bahrain have been stymied by a brutal crackdown on civil society leaders,” said Ahmad Assed, co-author of the report and a defense attorney with significant domestic and international criminal experience. “If the government refuses to release these advocates for non-violent, democratic reforms, it may undermine prospects for a peaceful transition to democracy.”
While President Obama criticized the crackdown and Sec. Clinton called on the government to implement the recommendations of the commission, the State Department recently decided to proceed with military assistance to Bahrain, despite protests from human rights groups. Major protests are planned this weekend to mark the anniversary of the protests.
The full report is available here.