Bahrain Government Crackdown on Opposition

Map of Bahrain

Map of Bahrain (Google)

The men will face trial on October 28 on the charge of “spreading false information and forming an illegal group,” said Prosecutor General Abdul-Rahman al-Sayed on Wednesday.
The Shia activists could face sentences as harsh as life imprisonment if convicted.
Bahrain’s Sunni-dominated government has intensified its crackdown on the country’s majority Shia population, arresting dozens of opposition figures on the allegation of planning to topple the Bahraini government.
Amnesty International says more than 250 people, believed to be in detention, are at the risk of being tortured.
A little background about Bahrain is in order. The Kingdom of Bahrain is situated on a relatively small island – actually several islands – of 750 sq km situated in the Persian Gulf close to Saudi Arabia and  Qatar. It’s capital is Al-Manamah, which holds an U.S. Naval Base. Bahrain has a population of some estimated 730’000 among which are 235’000 non-nationals (Source: CIA Factbook, Wikipedia has slightly different numbers). Ninety-nine percent of the population is Muslim, of which some estimated 80% are Shi’ites.
Bahrain is a constitutional monarchy ruled by the Al-Khalifa family whose members are Sunni Muslims. In 2001 it was hoped that there would be a “dawn of democracy” in Bahrain, but as the Bahrain Center for Human Rights wrote in 2006, it was a false dawn for Shia Muslims:
Bahrain had its “dawn of democracy” in 2001, several years before Washington looked hopefully for a thaw across the Arab world. But for the Shia who make up about two-thirds of the island’s 470,000 native population, it has proved false.
Rather than hastening change, the empowerment of Iraq’s Shia majority and muscular assertion of Iran’s influence in the region have made Bahrain’s ruling Sunni minority more cautious.
After inheriting power in 1999, King Hamad ibn Isa al-Khalifa, Bahrain’s Sunni ruler, released political prisoners and welcomed back pro-democracy activists forced into exile when his father crushed a wave of unrest in the 1990s.
He then invited Bahrainis to vote on a new social contract. But the resulting constitution, with the absolute powers of the ruling al-Khalifa family unchecked by a new and toothless parliament, fell short of expectations the king himself had raised.
As parliamentary elections approach for the second time in four years, hopes for a political system that gives the Shia a fairer share of wealth, land and power have faded and for young Shia, the prospect of earning a decent wage remains bleak.
High unemployment especially among Shia Muslims is also due to the fact that only 18% of senior public sector and government positions are held by Shia, and that they are in fact barred from the security services, whose ranks are filled with Sunni recruits from Yemen, Jordan, Syria and Pakistan, as the Bahrain Center for Human Rights writes in the article part of which is cited above.
Of course, not only jobs are carefully distributed, the property is also mostly in the hands of the ruling family. With the help of Google maps Bahrain Land Ownership is very impressively explained in detail.
In recent month there has been a crack down on Shia Muslims and the opposition, which prompted Amnesty International to issue this media communication on October 8, 2010 (excerpt, full version here):
Around 250 individuals at risk of torture
Around 250 individuals in Bahrain are believed to have been detained as part of a clampdown against Shi’a political opposition and activism ahead of parliamentary elections on 23 October.
Since the arrest of 23 Shi’a political and human rights activists in August, the government has arrested what Bahraini activists estimate to be a further 230 individuals, all of them said to be Shi’a, in connection with anti-government demonstrations and riots held in Shi’a towns and villages. Official figures have not been made public. During these events some demonstrators set fire to tyres and threw Molotov cocktails at security forces.
During the first few weeks all detainees were held incommunicado; however, some have now been allowed visits by family members. Some in the first group of 23 detainees have seen their lawyers only once, when they were brought to the Public Prosecutor several weeks ago, but were not allowed to talk to them. The rest of the detainees have had no access to lawyers at all. This denial of contact exacerbates the risk of possible torture and other ill-treatment and the families and lawyers of some of the 23 men arrested in August have alleged that the detainees have been tortured. The government has denied this and has prohibited the publication of any information on the cases of the around 250 detainees. The ban is enforceable with a penalty of up to one year’s imprisonment.. Human Rights Watch requested access to some of the detainees, but the authorities have rejected these in the past few days.
Since the first arrests took place, the Bahraini authorities have arbitrarily restricted the activities of a number of human rights activists and organizations. In September the Bahraini government suspended the board of the legally registered Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS), accusing it of “legal and administrative irregularities” and co-operating with “illegal organizations”, after it had publicly criticized the government for violating the human rights of the 23 people arrested in August. An official from the Ministry of Social Development has been appointed as a temporary administrator. In recent weeks three human rights activists were temporarily prevented from travelling abroad to attend meetings and workshops on human rights, among other things, but were later told they could travel without restriction.
These are the 23 mentioned in the PressTV article cited at the beginning of this post. As AI further stated in a media release on October 13, 2010, that the number of people detained since August is now closer to 250 and includes clerics, students, members of human rights organisations and charities, and opposition activists.
The Bahraini royal family is obviously good friends with the US – or at least with certain right-wing elements in the US. As you could recently learn, Bahraini banks are funding the American Chamber of Commerce, which in turn is pumping money into the (upcoming) US elections, as was revealed recently by ThinkProgress.
As a side note, the American Chamber of Commerce has a branch in Bahrain, see here for Board Members (Citigroup, American Express, Microsoft among others).