Jailed for marching on Saturday? You would be in Bahrain
Imagine that after Saturday’s rally you were picked up by the security forces, beaten with a hose pipe, thrown into solidarity confinement for six weeks, forced to sign a confession under torture, denied medical treatment and then sentenced for a decade on trumped up charges.
That’s exactly what happened to Mahdi Abu Dheeb, the head of the Bahraini Teacher’s Association (BTA), who did no more than lead his union during the Arab Spring uprisings in February and March 2011.
Originally sentenced back in September 2011, he lost his appeal over the weekend but was given a reduced sentence of five years behind bars. The BTA Vice President, Jalila Al Salman also got landed with a 6 months sentence. Both of them are innocent and both have been treated appallingly. Worse still, the British Government has been silent.
The Bahraini authorities’ claimed that the BTA leaders were inciting violence. This is nonsense. Amnesty International concludes that it has “not seen any convincing evidence supporting such accusations, nor was there any such evidence presented at trial”, and have therefore adopted the leaders as prisoners of conscience.
The bitter irony is that one of the key reasons why the BTA called for strikes in the first place was to demand “accountability for security forces responsible for killing civilians”. The other irony is that they have been victims of state violence, as confirmed by the Bahraini Independent Commission of Inquiry late last year (see para 1695). As Patrick Roach of the NASUWT heard when he visited Bahrain as part of an international trade union delegation earlier this year:
Members of the BTA told us how they have been subjected to torture, sexual assault, abduction and severe violence by the authorities. We heard how Jalila had been taken from her home in the middle of the night by security forces, who raided her home in front of her terrified and screaming children. She was blindfolded, beaten, sexually assaulted and kept locked up in freezing temperatures. Mahdi’s daughter, Maryam, provided a moving and disturbing testimony of what had been happening to her father, including the many injuries he has sustained whilst in prison.
All of this deserved and deserves a tough response from the British Government, but we’ve mostly had silence despite the campaigning efforts of teachers, unions, doctors and human rights organisations.
There is the official stench of double standards about all of this. When it comes to Pussy Riot, the Foreign Office was,“…deeply concerned by the sentencing of three members of the band Pussy Riot, which can only be considered a disproportionate response to an expression of political belief. Reports about conditions of the detention of the women, and the conduct of the trial, are also concerning”. But when it comes to Mahdi and Jalila? The toughest language that William Hague could muster last week when the Bahraini Crown Prince was in town was to urge “more progress on political dialogue”.
Our Parliament agrees with us. The Foreign Affairs Committee has just recommended that Bahrain should have been put on the FCO’s list of countries of concern. Fiji and South Sudan joined the 28 member list in last years’ FCO Human Rights report, but not Bahrain. The Committee also challenged “the Government for being inconsistent in not taking a public stance on the Bahrain Grand Prix but boycotting group stage games at Euro 2012 in Ukraine”.
So why the double standards? Bahrain, along with Saudi Arabia are key government allies against Iran, major oil exporters and central to calculations on the crisis in Libya and Syria. Once the Foreign Office does its soulless number crunching it seems that teachers, health workers, and all Bahraini citizens calling out for democracy and decency in their lives lose out.