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Resistance and solidarity continues in Bahrain

By: 
Jesse McLaren

December 23, 2011

On November 23 the people of Bahrain continued resisting the regime of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, in a “black day of anger”—in reference to the black smoke from burning tires. Despite an intense crackdown on Bahrain’s uprising since it began in February, demonstrators continue to fight for justice, and the small country of 1.2 million people is getting the world’s attention.

The day of anger coincided with the release of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), which is deeply critical of Bahrain authorities. The report, conducted by international experts, criticizes the use of torture and force of the Bahrain government in dealing with protests that have rocked the country since February. The report cites hundreds of cases of abuse, including mass arrests of peaceful demonstrators, torture in detention and dozens of military trials. It also calls for greater protections of human rights and justice for the victims and protections for human rights.

The report vindicates the experience of the people of Bahrain, but there are concerns it will be misused. While journalists have been welcomed back into the country after a months-long ban and on November 21 all forms of torture were declared illegal, many do not trust a commission appointed by Khalifa to stop the systematic repression that has gone on against peaceful protestors. The report fails to blame anyone for the repression, allowing the regime to claim all the violence was simply the result of rogue elements who will take the fall.

The report also ignores the international context of the crackdown. Bahrain is home to an important US navy base, and the regime could not survive without heavy US military backing. The NATO bombing of Libya was used not only to attempt to hijack the Libyan revolution, but also to bury any news of Western complicity with the dictatorship of Bahrain. As recently as this summer the Obama administration approved $53 million in military sales to the regime. The US state department said it would put the sale on hold until it reviews the report, and there are concerns that the report will be used to justify continued Western arms sales to the dictatorship in Bahrain.

The report itself does not alter anything on the ground. Just hours before the report was to be released, police fired teargas at protestors and continued their assaults on makeshift medical clinics. Abdul Nabi Kadhem, 44, was killed when his car was intentionally hit by a police vehicle, running him into a building. Police used sounds bombs and arrested a number of people protesting the death of Kadhem.

But the people of Bahrain are continuing to resist, and there is growing international solidarity. When the regime sentenced 20 medics to up to 15 years for healing the wounded, international outrage forced a retrial for November 28. On November 26, petitions signed by 1000 global medical professionals were delivered to Bahrain embassies in Washington and London, demanding their immediate release. The trial will resume on January 9, with the regime now making the preposterous claim that the medics were armed and dangerous. Continued international solidarity, and pressure on Western governments, can help the people of Bahrain fight for their own freedom.

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