Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by William Maclean and Peter Graff
DUBAI (Reuters) - Protests broke out in Bahrain after the execution of two Shi’ite Muslim activists on terrorism-related charges revived tension over the weekend in the Sunni-led kingdom, a Western ally that has cracked down on dissent since a failed 2011 uprising.
Police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of demonstrators in Bilad al-Qadeem suburb where one protester died from gas inhalation on Saturday, four activists said. A government spokesperson said in a statement sent to Reuters that the man died from natural causes.
People also took to the streets in several Shi’ite villages and neighborhoods on the outskirts of the capital Manama on Sunday night in response to Saturday’s execution of Ali al-Arab and Ahmed al-Malali, who were sentenced to death last year on terrorism crimes in a mass trial.
Videos and pictures posted on verified social media accounts of activists showed demonstrators clashing with security forces, burning ties and building roadblocks.
The protests are the most significant unrest in more than two years in the island state, headquarters of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, since authorities in 2017 executed three Shi’ite men convicted of killing three policemen in a bomb attack.
Bahrain has a Shi’ite Muslim majority and is ruled by a Sunni royal family. It is the only one of the Gulf monarchies to have faced serious unrest during the Arab Spring protests that swept the Middle East and North Africa in 2011.
Asked about the demonstrations, the government spokesperson told Reuters that Bahrain upholds constitutional rights for freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, but “any acts of disorder that disrupt public safety require legal actions to be taken” in accordance with internationally recognized standards.
The ruling Al Khalifa family has kept a lid on dissent since the mostly Shi’ite opposition staged a failed uprising in 2011. Saudi Arabia sent in troops to help crush that unrest in a mark of concern that any major unrest or power-sharing concession by Bahrain could inspire its own Shi’ite minority.
Activists abroad have called for further protests over the executions, which were criticized by international rights groups who say the men’s confessions were obtained through torture, which Manama denies.
“There are calls and there will be more protests in the coming days, but the repression is very violent and authorities are retaliating with collective punishments,” said Ali Alaswad, a senior member of the dissolved opposition group al-Wefaq, who has lived in exile in London since 2011.
Bahrain has closed the main opposition groups and prosecuted scores of people, stripping hundreds of their nationalities, in mass trials. A number of activists have fled abroad.
Many Shi’ites say they are deprived of jobs and treated as second class citizens in the country of 1.5 million. Authorities deny this and accuse Iran of fostering unrest that has seen demonstrators clash with security forces, who have been targeted by several bomb attacks. Tehran denies involvement.
ANGER AT FUNERAL
Analysts say they do not expect a repeat of past widespread violence given measures to stifle dissent in Bahrain, which has been emboldened by a crackdown on dissent in Saudi Arabia.
“Bahrainis know an escalation, as happened in 2011, will not only be met with brutality, but also with the occupation by Saudi Forces in the form of the Gulf Peninsula Shield,” said Marc Owen Jones of the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter, referring to a common Gulf Arab force.
On Sunday, hundreds of people attended the funeral of Mohammad Ibrahim al-Mokdad, 22, who died after taking part in Saturday night’s protest. The government spokesperson said a medical report “confirms illness as cause of death”.
“With our souls, with our blood, we will redeem you, martyr,” mourners could be heard chanting in several videos of the funeral posted on activists’ social media accounts.
Many were holding pictures of the executed activists, who were among three men executed on Saturday. Authorities said, without identifying any of the men, that they were convicted in two separate cases, one involving the killing of a police officer and the other the killing of a mosque imam.
London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy says that 17 people are currently on death row on political grounds, including eight at imminent risk of execution.
“The regime uses executions as a vengeance tool,” said al-Wefaq’s Alaswad.
The authorities have denied targeting the opposition and say they are protecting national security.
29 July 2019 – On Saturday 27 July, the Government of Bahrain executed 25-year-old Ali AlArab and 24-year-old Ahmed AlMalali. Both individuals had been convicted and sentenced to death in a mass trial marred by allegations of torture and due process violations alongside 58 other individuals on 31 January 2018. A third individual from Bangladesh was also executed. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) strongly condemns the Bahraini government’s execution of torture victims, and calls on Bahrain to place a moratorium on the death penalty with a view towards its abolition. Presently, there are eight other Bahrainis at imminent risk of execution, with ten other individuals on death row still undergoing appeals of their cases.
Ali AlArab was detained on 9 February 2017 by security agents of the Ministry of Interior (MoI) and was taken to the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID), where he was held until 7 March 2017. During this time they coerced him into signing a confession while blindfolded. On 7 March, officers transferred Ali to Dry Dock Detention Center. He arrived there bearing clear signs of torture, including having all of his toenails removed. On the same day that he arrived at Dry Dock, the guards beat him for refusing to kiss one of the guards’ boots.
Ahmed AlMalali was also arrested on 9 February 2017. The Ministry of Interior’s Coast Guard arrested Ahmed at sea during a joint operation with the CID, the Special Security Force Command (SSFC), and the National Security Agency (NSA). The authorities presented no warrants. During the arrest, Ahmed was struck by two bullets in his hand and suffered a broken bone in his leg. Doctors did not remove the bullets until 23 days later, and they only treated the broken bone with a splint. Following the arrest, officers held Ahmedincommunicado for a month at the CID, where he was subjected to brutal torture, including forced standing, exposure to cold, beatings (including blows to the genitals), and electric shock.
On Friday, 26 July 2019, the families of Ali AlArab and Ahmed AlMalali received a phone call for a “special visit.” According to Article 330 of Bahrain’s Criminal Procedure Code, relatives of persons scheduled for execution will be permitted a final visit “on the date fixed for the execution,” before the sentence is carried out. This worrying news came less than 24 hours after United States Attorney General Barr announced the federal government will resume executions of death row inmates.
The executions of Ali AlArab and Ahmed AlMalali, along with a third individual, are the first executions in over two years, when Bahrain broke a seven-year de facto moratorium on the death penalty in 2017 when theyexecuted torture victims Ali Al-Singace (21), Abbas Al-Samea (27), and Sami Mushaima (42).
ADHRB condemns in the strongest possible terms the execution of these men, in violation of international law and despite public outcry from UN experts, human rights organizations, and officials from multiple governments. ADHRB calls on the Government of Bahrain to immediately halt any pending executions, to re-try other individuals on death row who have alleged confessions coerced through torture and other fair trial rights violations, and to provide compensation to the families of AlArab and AlMalali.
Human rights groups had warned against the executions, calling them ‘utterly shameful”
Bahrain has executed three people convicted in two separate cases, one a case of “terrorism” and killing a police officer, and the second related to the killing of a mosque imam, the public prosecutor has said.
Human rights groups had been warning against the execution of two men, Ali Mohamed Hakeem al-Arab and Ahmed Isa Ahmed Isa al-Malali.
Malali and Arab were convicted in a mass trial involving 60 people in January 2018. Both had exhausted all possible judicial appeals.
A last-minute appeal to stop their imminent execution was also issued by the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Agnès Callamard.
Callamard said in a statement the men were allegedly tortured, prevented from attending their trial and sentenced to death in absentia.
Amnesty International Middle East research director, Lynn Maalouf, also warned the executions were “an utterly shameful show of contempt for human rights”.
“The death penalty is an abhorrent assault on the right to life and the utmost cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. Its use is appalling in all circumstances, but it is all the more shocking when it is imposed after an unfair trial in which the defendants were tortured to ‘confess’,” she said.
The small Gulf state, a key US ally located between rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran, has been gripped by bouts of unrest since 2011, when authorities cracked down on Shia-led protests demanding political reform. The UK advises Bahrain on training its police and independent complaints procedures.
Bahrain's public prosecutor announces executions hours after UN envoy Agnes Callamard appealed to stop them.
Bahrain has executed two people convicted on terror charges, the public prosecutor has said, despite international appeals for clemency amid concerns the pair did not receive a fair trial and were coerced into making confessions through torture.
Attorney General Ahmed al-Hammadi said in a statement on Saturday that the men, who were not identified, were involved in "terrorist" operations that killed a security officer, among other charges. They were put to death by firing squad.
Rights groups identified the pair as Ali al-Arab, 25, and Ahmad al-Malali, 24.
The two men, who were arrested separately in February 2017, were convicted in January 2018 in a mass trial involving some 60 people. Both were allegedly subjected to torture, as well as prevented from attending their trial and sentenced to death in absentia.
The executions came hours after Agnes Callamard, theUnited Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, appealed to Bahrain's government to stop the executions of al-Arab and al-Malali.
"The authorities in Bahrain must immediately halt any plans to execute these men, annul the death sentences against them and ensure they are retried in accordance with international law and standards," Callamard said in a statement on Friday.
"Capital punishment may only be carried out for the most serious crimes and after a legal process which has included all possible safeguards aimed at ensuring a fair trial."
Rights groups had also called for the halting of the executions.
"If the Bahraini authorities go through with these executions it would be an utterly shameful show of contempt for human rights," Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International's Middle East research director, said on Friday.
"[The death penalty's] use is appalling in all circumstances, but it is all the more shocking when it is imposed after an unfair trial in which the defendants were tortured to 'confess'."
Third man executed
Speaking to Al Jazeera shortly before the executions, Bahraini human-rights activist Maryam Alkhawaja said she did not believe it was a coincidence that the decision to execute the men came as the United States reinstated a long-dormant policy allowingthe federal government's use of capital punishment.
"Gulf States always feel they need a green light to commit the violence they commit. If the US is going to start federal executions again, the Bahrain government feels it has the green light to do the same."
A third man, convicted for killing an imam last year, was also executed, according to the public prosecutor's statement.
Bahrain was the only Gulf state to witness street protests during the Arab Spring in 2011, when crowds gathered to demand a democratically elected government, the end of sectarian rule and a redistribution of wealth and power.
The monarchy requested military assistance from neighbouring allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to assist its security forces, who together violently crushed the protest camp built at the capital Manama's Pearl Roundabout.
At least 35 people were killed and many of those arrested were tortured during detention, human rights groups claim.
The uprising continued into 2012, with tens of thousands attending weekly rallies, but continued police crackdowns killed dozens more civilians and led to the arrest of thousands.
While Tehran often cannot seem to defend its arguments effectively, Israel too often strays into counterproductive excess
In February 2007, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, visited Rome for one of his frequent consultations with then-prime minister Romano Prodi. I had the privilege to attend that meeting and another more technical one on the wider Middle East agenda.
Larijani was pressed on the threat that the potential military dimension of Tehran’s nuclear programme posed to counter-proliferation efforts in the region, and especially to Israel, which viewed it as an existential threat.
Such fears had been heightened after the remarks (albeit mistranslated) by former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad two years earlier that Israel must be “wiped off the map”.
Spin versus spin
At one point, Larijani said: “Let us admit for a moment that Iran is really pursuing a nuclear military programme; you really believe that we would be so crazy to use nuclear weapons against Israel, putting at risk also the lives of millions of Palestinians?”
It was a rare example of effective Iranian spin on a crucial issue, although expressed in a confidential talk.
Less than a year later, another confidential meeting took place in Rome between the then-head of the Mossad, General Meir Dagan, and Prodi, where the former presented Israel’s evidence about the military nature of Iran’s nuclear programme. A few months earlier, however, a US National Intelligence Estimate had dismissed this possibility.
This meeting was also followed by a technical consultation that I led, during which I dropped the remark Larijani had made months earlier. Dagan did not even let me finish, and asked me assertively: “Do you know what the main places of worship of Shia Islam are?” I answered by pointing to the two holy shrines of Najaf and Karbala in Iraq after Mecca.
Dagan then asked: “And are you aware that during the Iran-Iraq war, the Iranians had no hesitation in ordering attacks against these two holy cities for all Shiites? So, you really believe that the concern for the Palestinians as potential collateral victims would prevent Iran to use their nuclear weapons against Israel?”
Being uncertain if those shrines had really been attacked, I did not press further. Later on, I discovered that such attacks had never occurred. In reacting to a seemingly sensible objection to the Israeli narrative on Iran, the chief of Mossad had not hesitated to mislead me.
Wrong words at the wrong time
These two events occurred more than a decade ago, but are still relevant because they denote a fundamental problem that affects both Iran and Israel and, most of all, any external support to potential negotiations.
Iran reflects a highly sophisticated culture, but it unfortunately has a poor capacity for public relations in the West. Sometimes, its multifaceted leadership excels in uttering the wrong words at the wrong time.
It rarely displays, with the notable exception of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, the capability to effectively explain to Western chancelleries and opinion-makers Iran’s solid arguments on the nuclear file - even now, when renewed tensions have boiled over due to the unjustified US withdrawal from the nuclear deal and the imposition of unilateral sanctions.
Tehran seems to assume that its audiences in the West possess in-depth knowledge of such a complex topic, painting a picture so nuanced that the Western mainstream media - which often fails to delve beyond the superficial - are unable or unwilling to absorb, let alone explain it to the public.
Had Iran devoted a fraction of the huge expenditures it has incurred to support its proxies in the region over the last four decades in favour of a professional Western public relations firm, its standing in the West today would surely be better.
Lazy mainstream media
Unlike Iran, Israel has developed exceptional public relations capabilities, with visible results in influencing (someone might say manipulating) oblivious Western decision-makers and lazy mainstream media.
Yet, even Israel shows some flaws in this regard: particularly, excessively applying the infamous principle that you’re “either with me or against me” - the tendency to react in an unnecessarily assertive way towards bona fide objections to some of its narratives, even when they are objectively preposterous.
In the case of Dagan in Rome in 2007, he did not hesitate to mislead, rather than try to convince, his Italian counterpart. Israel generally viewed the Prodi administration with suspicion because of its support, through negotiations towards a two-state solution, the fulfilment of Palestinian rights.
A few months before the meeting, Prodi also became the first European leader to publicly recognise Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. This confirmed Italy’s commitment to Israel’s security, even at the cost of incurring a negative reaction from the Arab-Palestinian community.
A problematic imbalance
Unfortunately, this did not buy us a different attitude from Israeli top officials, as the conversation with Dagan sadly confirmed. This attitude is becoming self-damaging, as shown by the increasing tendency of Israel supporters to formulate ludicrous accusations of antisemitism against anyone who dares to criticise the merits of certain government policies.
Both the Iranian and the Israeli leaderships are deeply suspicious.
While Iran is too reticent, Israel is too loquacious. Tehran is convinced of the goodness of its arguments, but reluctant, unable, or perhaps resigned to the futility of the effort to defend them effectively.
Israel, equally convinced it is on the right side of history, too often defends its positions with counterproductive excess, sometimes alienating even its more authentic and loyal friends and supporters.
One is too passive, the other is too active: the result is an imbalance that complicates the lives of those genuinely committed to promoting a sound approach to the issues.
Pasdaran bloccano una petroliera inglese sullo stretto di Hormuz. Un’operazione rapidissima con cui Teheran manda messaggi muscolari a Washington, Londra e Riad
La “Stena Impero” è ferma, sotto sequestro, al porto iraniano di Bandar Abbas, scalo principale sullo Stretto di Hormuz. Ieri sera i Pasdaran hanno deviato la rotta della petroliera inglese mentre risaliva il Golfo diretta in Arabia Saudita. L’hanno fermata perché avrebbe eseguito manovre marittime non sicure, alcuni media — come Sepahnews (vicini all’ala teocratica interna all’Iran) — sostengono che sia stata protagonista di un incidente con un peschereccio, per questo sarebbero subito intervenuti i militari iraniani. Ora c’è un’inchiesta, ma intanto la nave resta bloccata, al centro di una crisi diplomatica armata. L’equipaggio (nessun inglese) è chiuso a bordo da ieri notte e non ha più il controllo della nave, dice una dichiarazione diffusa all’armatore stamattina.
L’incidente potrebbe essere un pretesto? Possibile, ma intanto stamattina il Foreign Office è stato costretto a rilasciare una dichiarazione in cui avvisa le navi inglesi di stare fuori dallo Stretto di Hormuz “ad interim” — “La nostra risposta sarà considerata solida e ci saranno gravi conseguenze se la situazione non verrà risolta”. Il problema è reale. Il Regno Unito ha tre unità navali integrate nell’operazione Sentinel, ossia nella coalizione in costruzione che Washington vorrebbe operativa per scortare i traffici nel Golfo.
Londra è il Paese che più di tutti s’è allineato alle richieste degli Stati Uniti, che dopo che il confronto con l’Iran s’è trasformato in una guerra di nervi con le petroliere fisicamente al centro dello scacchiere, hanno chiesto maggior coinvolgimento ai paesi partner (e gli inglesi hanno tutto l’interesse a essere della partita, perché hanno link energetici nell’area, e vogliono strutturare quelli politici con l’amministrazione Trump come àncora post-Brexit). Se non altro, la vicenda della Stena ci dice che nonostante la presenza militare rafforzata nel Golfo, gli iraniani hanno un’agilità tattica superiore. Il raid marittimo ha permesso ai Pasdaran di sequestrare la nave prima che i tracciamenti satellitari, le navi, i droni di Sentinel se ne accorgessero — ossia ha permesso che si materializzasse di nuovo, dopo i sabotaggi ai tanker di maggio e giugno, il peggior scenario di scontro per l’area previsto da tutti i pianificatori militari, quello che mette le petroliere a rischio azioni e ritorsioni.
Ci sono almeno due ragioni per credere che l’operazioni dei Guardiani khomeinisti sia stata un atto simbolico, ergo politico, più che poliziesco. Primo, poche ore prima, il governo locale di Gibilterra, inglese, aveva deciso di prolungare fino al 15 agosto il fermo della “Grace 1”, nave-cisterna iraniana che i Royal Marines inglesi avevano bloccato con un blitz spettacolarizzato sotto l’accusa di trasportare petrolio dall’Iran alla Siria in violazione delle sanzioni Ue. Teheran aveva promesso una ritorsione, e i barchini rapidi con cui si muovono i Pasdaran tra le rotte scomode dello stretto si erano già presentati davanti a una petroliera inglese giorni fa. In quell’occasione una delle fregate di inglesi presenti nel Golfo era intervenuta in tempo e gli iraniani avevano rinunciato all’azione davanti alla dissuasione dei cannoni di Sua Maestà. Per la Stena sono stati più rapidi.
La seconda delle ragioni è più ampia e raffinata. Ieri il CentCom del Pentagono ha annunciato che soldati americani torneranno in Arabia Saudita, e l’agenzia stampa del regno, la SPA, ha rilanciato che il dispiegamento è stato deciso “su invito” di Re Salman. Tutto confezionato appena concluso l’incontro, a Riad, tra il generale alla guida del comando regionale Usa e quello saudita che coordina la coalizione che combatte i ribelli in Yemen. Un raggruppamento militare che ha anche un forte sapore politico, in cui l’erede al trono saudita ha poggiato le basi della sua assertività regionale, con un forte accento anti-Iran, e che simbolicamente dal 2015 viene considerato il prototipo di quella che Washington vorrebbe diventasse la cosiddetta “Nato Araba” a cui affidare la gestione della futura architettura di sicurezza nella regione mediorientale. Qualcosa di cui l’Iran non è parte, anzi è avversaria.
I soldati americani in Arabia Saudita serviranno “per aumentare il livello di azione comune a difesa della regione e la sua stabilità” dice casa Saud, e rappresentano un passaggio storico nel rinnovato feeling Usa-Ksa. Cinquecento militari americani rientreranno rapidamente alla Prince Sultan Air Base, nell’area desertica a est di Riad; alcuni sono già sul posto in via più discreta da metà giugno, hanno portato batterie anti-aeree Patriot e logistica con cui preparare le piste per ospitare, rumors, anche i Raptor, i più tecnologici cacciabombardieri stealth americani. Sono partiti per ordine del Commander-in-Chief senza notifiche preliminari al Congresso (che ultimamente ha preso posizioni non proprio favorevoli ai collegamenti militari coi sauditi).
Gli americani avevano spostato ufficialmente le truppe dalla base Prince Sultan al nuovo hub qatarino del CentCom ad aprile del 2003, quando iniziò l’invasione in Iraq. Bloccare la Stena il giorno in cui il rientro saudita americano viene reso pubblico è anche un gesto simbolico per i Pasdaran, che a Riad hanno i contender ideologici e soprattutto geopolitici principali. Un segnale muscolare in questo confronto di psicologico in cui tutti dicono di non volere un conflitto.
Doha says the seized air-to-air missile was sold to a 'friendly' third country that wishes not to be named.
A French missile once owned by Qatar's military and found among a huge arsenal of weapons seized inItaly was sold by the Gulf state 25 years ago to a third country, Qatar's foreign ministry said.
Italian police said on Monday that a French-made Matra air-to-air missile belonging to Qatar's armed forces was discovered during raids on neo-Nazi sympathisers.
In a statement on Tuesday, Doha said the missile was part of a larger weapons sale made to a third "friendly" country more than two decades ago, though it did not identify it.
"The authorities in Qatar have immediately started an investigation alongside the respective Italian authorities and the authorities of another friendly nation to which the Matra missile was sold 25 years ago," foreign ministry spokeswoman Lolwah Alkhater said.
"The captured Matra Super530 missile was sold by Qatar in the year 1994 in a deal that included 40 Matra Super 530 missiles to a friendly nation that wishes not to be named at this point of the investigation," said Alkhater.
Italian police said the suspects tried to sell the missile in conversations with contacts on the WhatsApp messaging network. Subsequent checks showed the weapon was in working condition but lacked an explosive charge.
"Qatar is working very closely now with the pertinent parties including Italy to unveil the facts and it is very concerned as to how a missile sold 25 years ago ended up in the hands of a third non-state party," said Alkhater.
Elite police forces searched properties across northern Italy following an investigation into Italians who had fought in eastern Ukraine in the conflict between the Kiev government's forces and Russian-backed separatists.
Among other weapons uncovered in the raids were 26 guns, 20 bayonets, 306 gun parts, including silencers and rifle scopes, and more than 800 rounds of various calibres. The arms were primarily from Austria, Germany and the United States.
8 July 2019 – On 19 June, eight French Members of Parliament (MPs) sent a letter to Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa AlKhalifa. In the letter they raised concerns over the recent upholding of the death sentences against torture victims Ali AlArab and Ahmed AlMalali. They called on King Hamad to immediately establish an official moratorium on the death penalty with a view towards abolition and to commute all outstanding death sentences to terms of imprisonment. Additionally they called on him to conduct a comprehensive review of Bahrain’s death row to ensure victims of human rights abuses unlawfully sentenced to death receive redress. This letter was a result of ADHRB’s international advocacy efforts, and similar concerns have been echoed by an Italian MP, French Senator Pierre Laurent, Swiss MPs, international NGOs, United Nations experts, aSpanish Member of Parliament, and a Member of the European Parliament. Read an English version of the letter here and a French version here.
10 July 2019 – On 20 June, the United States (US) Department of State (DoS) released its 2019 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, which assesses the actions individual countries are taking to combat human trafficking. Countries are rated on their efforts and progress according to a four-‘tier’ system, with Tier 1 being the highest ranking. In the 2019 report, Bahrain remained on Tier 1 for the second consecutive year after having been bumped up from Tier 2 by DoS in 2018 – indicating the kingdom “fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking” and “continued to demonstrate serious and sustained efforts.” Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) is deeply disappointed with the State Department’s decision to keep Bahrain at Tier 1 given the continuing incidences of forced labor and trafficking in Bahrain. We further emphasize that the measures taken by the kingdom do not offer significant prospect for improvement.
The 2019 report touts Bahrain’s increase in trafficking convictions and the ability of workers to sponsor themselves through the “flexi permit” program as justification for its Tier 1 status. Yet the report highlights several areas where Bahrain has ultimately failed – specifically by neglecting to treat indicators of forced labor as potential trafficking crimes. The Bahraini government does not regularly investigate cases of unpaid or withheld wages or passport confiscation by employers, and infrequently investigates, prosecutes, or convicts perpetrators of forced labor.
The report noted that “some employers subject migrant workers to forced labor in Bahrain” and signs included “passport retention, strict confinement, contract substitution, non-payment of wages, debt bondage, threats or intimidation, and physical or sexual abuse.” While the government of Bahrain originally planned to institute a wage protection system in January 2018, its implementation has now been delayed until September 2019 and, once implemented, will take over a year until all migrant workers are covered by it. Additionally, there are serious questions about how the system will flag wage theft. The consequences for employers who do not comply with the measure are unclear.
While the flexi permit program is showcased in the report as an anti-trafficking accomplishment, the program can actually exclude more workers from protections and has strong limitations. There are no contracts to ensure wages and working conditions are not exploitative, and workers have to pay extraordinary fees that can lead to debt bondage. During the reporting period, the fees for the one- or two-year permits actually increased. The State Department report further highlighted concerns from NGOs and labor rights organizations that the permits “created a system of day laborers, overly shifted legal responsibility to the employees, and generated economic coercion given the associated cost of eligibility.” The program also reduces employer liability for abuses, in practice. At present, there is no evidence that the flexi program offers any additional protection or legal redress to permit holders, and it appears that a flexi permit holder will be unable to pursue a labor or TIP case against an employer.
On top of the specific concerns related to forced labor and trafficking in Bahrain, there is the broader issue of the kingdom’s lack of openness to international organizations. The ability for civil society to operate is indicative of greater access to fundamental freedoms, but Bahrain routinely denies access to international NGOs, human rights organizations, and United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteurs. The kingdom has also clamped down domestically, with all major opposition political societies forcibly dissolved and the last independent newspaper shuttered. This clampdown on civic space directly undermines civil society’s ability to independently monitor and track human trafficking and related abuses, and for migrant workers themselves to report exploitation, raising further concerns about the veracity of government claims accepted by the State Department in the TIP Report.
The Tier 1 designation for Bahrain in the 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report is neither appropriate nor earned, and no country without democratic freedoms should be able to achieve such a ranking. ADHRB calls on Bahrain to implement the prioritized recommendations listed in the TIP Report – including reforming the sponsorship system by extending labor law protections to encompass all workers, such as those with flexi permits, and to increase efforts to investigate and prosecute suspects of labor trafficking crimes. We also urge the State Department to reconsider Bahrain’s Tier 1 ranking until the kingdom takes concrete and measurable steps to improve the situation of human trafficking and forced labor and allows for independent monitoring.
A DOCUMENTARY about the life of iconic Bahraini poet Qassem Haddad is making waves internationally. The film, Qassem Haddad… The Last Door’s Hour, has won the Best Documentary Film Award at the Oniros Film Awards in Italy.
During the middle days of the Egyptian revolution, a group of 137 Bahraini writers, artists, and intellectuals issued a statement in solidarity with the Egyptians’ struggle for freedom and dignity.
One of the signatories, according to Bahrain’s Gulf Daily News, was celebrated Bahraini poet Qassim Haddad.
I don’t know where he is in the current Bahraini uprising. However, inTradition, modernity, and postmodernity in Arabic literature, Bassam Frangieh notes that Haddad was “tortured and imprisoned for five years for his belief in the need for a radical revolution in Arab society in order to achieve freedom and justice. An important figure in the process of modernity, he called for democracy and protested tyranny and oppression.”
However, as a poet, Haddad told Al Ahram reporter Rania Khallaf in 2006 that he can only effect a certain sort of change:
Changing the world is not the poet’s responsibility. Giving in to the illusion that literature can bring about political change is detrimental on both fronts. It’s a totally different mechanism. This is an important lesson that writers involved in ideology can benefit from. Literature effects only a sort of change — in the spirit of people, their sensibility and their convictions…
Haddad was born in Bahrain; he did not finish his secondary schooling and is largely self-educated. He came to prominence in the 1970s after publishing his first collection of poetry, Good Omen. By 2002, when Haddad received the prestigious Owais Cultural Foundation Prize for Poetry, he was one of Bahrain’s most celebrated authors.
“Sin 2,” translated by Frangieh
When a rag conceals the map Shame will not do For all these naked nations.
O King We are your flocks, of whom you boast to the nations. We are fed up with this glory.
O fire o queen of time Where shall I hide you, while the dry stalk is the ruler of this place?
And the final sections of “Words from a Young Night,” translated by Khaled Mattawa:
The clicking of my chains fills the place, I, who claim freedom.
My lip trembles now before a word… My lip is defeated.
Be prepared… the past is coming.
None of these are poems are exactly populist. But a number of the poems and translations on Qassim Haddad’s website—the translations being by respected poets and translators like Frangieh, Khaled Mattawa, Sharif Elmusa, Lena Jayyusi and Christopher Middleton, Naomi Shihab Nye—are interesting, textured, worth reading and re-reading.
In addition to these few poems, two AUC professors recently won a $100,000 National Endowment for the Humanities grant to translate more of Haddad’s work. Ferial Ghazoul and John Verlenden have been working with Haddad’s poetry and prose since 2003.