BAHRAIN: Human rights official details abuses, fear and anger
Reports of human rights abuses following antigovernment protests in the Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain have increased in recent days, as 21 opposition leaders stand trial in a military court accused of, among other things, attempting to overthrown the monarchy. Brian Dooley of New York-based Human Rights First was denied entry to the trial in the capital of Manama on Thursday, and spoke afterward about conditions there and his interviews with victims of recent violence.
Q: Why did you want to be at the trial today?
A: The outcome of that trial is enormous -- the whole mood of the country hinges on that. It won't all just go away because the emergency laws are lifted.
Q: What is it like in Bahrain now?
A: We're in a strange, very tense lull at the moment where people are waiting very carefully to see what people's mood will be.
Q: The king has announced that the state of emergency will end two weeks early, on June 1, but it was announced today that Gulf Cooperation Council troops will remain in Bahrain afterward. What does that mean?
A: It's not going to be business as usual or a return to normal. And remember, people being detained now won't finish June 1. The military courts will continue.
A: They have been blindfolded for very long periods, handcuffed, beaten. They are often made to do some show of allegiance to Bahraini authorities, forced to chant government slogans or sing the national anthem. There are people who were taken from the hospital who have not been heard from since. I spoke with a woman last night whose husband has been detained for eight weeks and she has only been allowed to speak with him three times by phone. People have no idea where their relatives are being held.
Q: How many people are in detention now?
A: We're not sure how many, and the government says it doesn't know, either, which is possible because people are coming and going. Last week 300 were released, but there have been about 1,000 detained. I asked the government this morning how many and they said they didn't know.
Q: You said there was a lull in Bahrain now, but is that simply because people are too afraid to protest?
A: People are most afraid between 1 and 4 a.m., of being taken from their homes, because that's when the masked men, men in balaclavas, come in and take them from their houses. We also have reports of houses being ransacked, cars stolen. When people go and ask, they are told there is no record of them. People are very afraid.
Q: Are they more afraid or angry?
A: People are angry. June 1 may be taking on a significance now where people are trying to determine what to do next: protest or not.
Q: Some analysts have said the government crackdown on protesters further alienated and radicalized Shiite youth. Have you seen that?
A: Shiite youth are being provoked. Apart from being in custody and really severe torture, there's a lot of low-level intimidation. I talked to some young guys today who were detained for 12 hours, knocked around and forced to sing the anthem. There was no sense that they were trying to get any information from them. How the youth will react is a big deal here. A lot of young people are out of work. That is a dangerous, powerful combination -- young people are out of a job and have not much to lose.
-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Cairo
Photo: A Bahraini man passes a wall Thursday that has been repeatedly spray-painted with antigovernment graffiti and then painted over by authorities in the village of Malkiya, Bahrain, one of many Shiite Muslim villages nationwide affected by security crackdowns and checkpoints. Credit: Hasan Jamali/Associated Press.