Although the rallies against the Al Khalifah dynasty, which started in mid-February 2011, are in the form of peaceful pro-democracy protests, the regime has utilized a constant heavy-handed crackdown against demonstrators.
In the small island of approximately 1.5 million citizens, the Shia majority population have long complained that they are discriminated against in employment and housing by the Al Khalifa regime.
In March 2011, the Bahraini regime asked Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf Arab countries to assist with the crackdown on the popular protests.
The Bahraini regime, backed by forces from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan, began a violent, deadly crackdown on protests, which has led to thousands of arrests, scores of deaths, and systematic torture of detainees.
Since the start of the popular protests, the Manama regime has dissolved key opposition factions, including al-Wefaq National Islamic Society and the National Democratic Action Society (Wa’ad), arrested prominent opposition figures and rights activists and conducted mass trials of civilians at military courts.
Rights activists have lashed out at Manama for the rampant torture and sexual abuse of political prisoners as well as numerous death sentences, lengthy jail terms, revocation of citizenships, enforced deportations and hefty financial penalties against political activists and Shia scholars in the country.
Critics of the Bahraini regime say defendants in the mass trials, all Shia Muslims, are victims of torture and denied access to any legal representation during the investigation period.
In March 5, 2017, Bahrain’s parliament approved the trial of civilians at military tribunals in a measure blasted by human rights campaigners as being tantamount to imposition of an undeclared martial law countrywide.
Bahraini monarch King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah ratified the constitutional amendment a month later.
Human Rights Watch says the Manama regime authorities have stripped 105 persons of Bahraini citizenship since October 2017, effectively placed more than 20 rights activists, lawyers, and political opposition figures under a travel ban, ordered the closure of the country’s only independent newspaper al-Wasat, and upheld a two-year prison sentence against distinguished human rights activist Nabeel Rajab over TV interviews between 2015 and 2016.
According to the latest report by the Sweden-based human rights NGO, SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights (SALAM DHR), Bahraini security authorities have arbitrarily arrested 89 Shia clerics and summoned 156 others over their political views since 2011.
The report, tilted “Kingdom of Persecution,” noted that the sentences against the Shia scholars included three death sentences, eight life jail terms, 19 citizenship revocations, including that of Bahrain’s most prominent cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have repeatedly expressed deep concern over deterioration of human rights in Bahrain, saying the situation reveals the regime’s campaign to silence voices of dissent in the sheikhdom.
US, UK silence
Meanwhile, not only have the US and UK governments kept silence over Manama’s crackdown on dissent, they have also continued their colossal arms sales to the Arab monarchy despite massive rights concerns.
Bahrain is home to the US Fifth Fleet. The Persian Gulf country concluded a $3.8-billion deal with a US aerospace and military equipment giant to purchase 16 upgraded F-16 warplanes on October 17, 2017. US President Donald Trump has eased restrictions on arms sales to certain countries, including Bahrain.
The US State Department removed human rights conditions on the sale of F-16 aircraft to Bahrain, after Trump announced in May 2017 that Washington’s relations with Manama were set to improve. The announcement came after Trump met the Bahraini King during a visit to Saudi Arabia.
The UK government has also been under fire domestically and by international rights activists over violation of its own laws by selling arms to Bahrain.
Under British law, London cannot export weapons to countries that will use them in violation of international humanitarian law.
According to data from the Stockholm international Peace Research Institute, Britain has sold at least $85 million worth of arms to Bahrain between 2000 and 2016.
Rights groups contend that American and British leaders are ignoring the massive rights violations in Bahrain because the sheikhdom is an export market for their weapons.