Bahrain security forces have again clamped down on protesters, as thousands marched in support of a human rights activist facing a life sentence. The regime, under increasing international pressure over the issue, has promised to review his case.
The Bahraini Supreme Judicial Council is currently studying an appeal to transfer Abdulhadi al-Khawaja to Denmark, the official Bahrain News Agency reported on Saturday. However, the report gave no possible timetable for the decision.
Al-Khawaja, along with seven other top opposition figures, was arrested last year and sentenced to life for anti-state crimes. Nearly two months ago he started a hunger strike, which has given more momentum to the movement and brought thousands to the streets, as well as putting Bahrain in the media spotlight again.
On Friday, as thousands marched in support of Al-Khawaja in the capital Manama, Bahraini security forces used tear-gas, water cannon and stun grenades to disperse the crowd.
An uprising against the Saudi-backed Al Khalifa regime in Bahrain began some 14 month ago, and since then the protests have faced violent crackdowns by Bahraini security forces. The UN estimates that 13 people have been killed as a result of police brutality during anti-regime protests since the beginning of this year.
Despite the current “silent western stance” on the situation, Middle East expert Ali Rizk believes Bahrain will increasingly come under scrutiny.
“More and more such acts, I think, will further expose the true nature or the true tactics which the regime is using,” Rizk said. “It also puts more pressure on certain Western powers or certain European countries in order to change their stance vis-à-vis the regime in Bahrain.”
The Bahraini opposition is in dire need of the media spotlight, believes Rizk, because this could contribute much to achieving their goals and help them gain “some of the rights that they are demanding.”
Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are the US’s two closest allies in the region. The US Fifth Fleet is stationed in Bahrain and would be vital for the US in the event of a military campaign against Iran. And Rizk believes that is one of the main reasons the US media is attacking Iran’s ally, Syria, while remaining absolutely silent about the situation in Bahrain.
The view is shared by journalist and anti-war activist Don DeBar who says that maintaining the Fifth Fleet is the only interest of the US in Bahrain. “The Bahraini people are nothing but people that are supposed to service that base and keep their mouths shut while they do it.”
Rizk believes that Saudi Arabia’s desire to keep “quiet on the situation” contributes to the West’s silent stance.
“When we speak about a blackout being put on Bahrain I think first and foremost this is a Saudi Arabian wish, because Saudi Arabians also fear that there might be a domino effect which could happen in the Persian Gulf, beginning from Bahrain and then spreading to Saudi Arabia,” Rizk explained.
The United States is taking a hypocritical stance in this situation, believes DeBar. “They’ve been claiming that they are in Syria over human rights, that they are in Libya over human rights and yet they are suppressing human rights in Bahrain. It shows that President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are hypocrites, they are liars.”