By SAYED AHMED ALWADAEI
By SAYED AHMED ALWADAEI
LONDON — In early March, a group of masked men accompanied by police officers arrested my brother-in-law in Bahrain. Three days later, my mother-in-law was arrested as well. Both were charged with planting “fake bombs” and prosecutors ordered 30 days detention for them. My brother-in-law, Nazar, said the police tortured him and forced him to implicate other family members in wrongdoing. They told him they were out for revenge for actions I had taken as a human rights activist.
Months earlier, authorities at Bahrain’s airport detained and forcibly separated my wife from our infant son, dragged her by the wrists and interrogated her for seven hours. They threatened to arrest our family members, asking: “Where shall I go first, shall I go to his family or your family?”
In 2011, I participated in the largest protest movement ever witnessed in Bahrain, calling for human rights and democratic reforms. In an attempt to crush our call, King Hamad of Bahrain instituted martial law and invited the Saudi Arabian army into the country to quell us. I was arrested, severely tortured and tried by a military court. After spending six months in prison, I fled Bahrain and claimed asylum in the United Kingdom.
Now that the Bahraini authorities can’t go after me, they’re going after my family.
The move to target my relatives and the family of my wife is a heinous new low in a series of accelerated acts of repression carried out by the Bahraini government since the election of Donald Trump. On January 5, the Bahraini government restored the National Security Agency with the powers to detain and arrest people suspected of “terrorist” offenses — the same agency that wasstripped of these powers in 2011 after its systematic use of torture throughout the uprising.
Ten days later, on January 15, the government carried out its first executions since 2010. The three executed men were all tortured into making false confessions and sentenced to death in unfair trials that relied almost entirely on those coerced confessions. The executions were strongly condemned by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings. The government even sent the blood-soaked clothes of the executed to their family members.
On February 21, the government amended the constitution toenable military courts to try civilians. The military court that tried me and 500 other protesters, including doctors who treated the wounded protestors back in 2011, was exceptional — now these courts will be standard practice. Then on March 7 the government moved to dissolve the secular political party, Wa’ad.
These calculated repressive measures by Bahraini authorities have gone largely unchecked since Donald Trump became president of the United States. Since the November election, the Bahraini government has curried favor with the new administration, evenholding their National Day celebrations at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. The Trump administration is now set to reinstate a $3 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets to the Kingdom, a weapons deal that Obama partially halted during his presidency until Bahrain stepped up its human rights reforms, including releasing the leading human rights defender Nabeel Rajab.
It’s not just the United States that is turning a blind eye to the Bahraini government’s crackdown on its people. In January, the U.K. government announced it is granting the Kingdom an additional 2 million British pounds sterling as part of the U.K.’s multi-million pound program of support for Bahrain’s security and justice system.
Bahrain is not operating in a vacuum. Back in 2011, Bahrain’s King caved to international pressure and promised reforms. But these never came. After the uprising, King Hamad formed the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) to investigate human rights abuses during the 2011 protests. BICI issued a 500-page report detailing the government’s use of excessive and indiscriminate force against protesters, including abuse, torture and death. Six years on, those violations have become institutionalized.
In today’s era of Trump and Brexit, of budding authoritarianism even in the oldest democracies, it seems that political leaders in Washington and London are substituting business and profit for democracy and human rights. President Trump has not only emboldened hate groups at home, but he’s also emboldened governments abroad, like that of Bahrain, to carry out human rights abuses and flout international law with impunity.
With the help of Washington and the United Kingdom, King Hamad’s government is willing to cross any red line — including publicly defaming me as a “terrorist” and targeting my family in apparent acts of retribution — to have its way.
Sayed Ahmed AlWadaei, @salwadaei, is the advocacy director of the UK-based Bahrain Institute for Democracy and Human Rights (BIRD).