Demise of Bahrain’s PM, Saudis must release detainees before G20

Today Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, the longest serving prime minister in the world passed away, having been in his post since the British withdrawal in August 1971. Bahrain has suffered greatly under his premiership. In 1975 he abrogated the legitimate constitution, dissolved the parliament and plunged the country in its dark era that has continued until now. For 30 years he was the strong man who ruled Bahrain with an iron-fist policy, helped by the notorious British colonial officer, Ian Henderson who died in 2013. They wreaked havoc on the people utilizing one of the most vicious security apparatus in the region. Torture became institutionalized, or as the regime-financed Bissioni Commission affirmed in 2011, it was “systematic”. Khalifa’s role was eclipsed soon after his nephew, the present ruler Hamad bin Isa al-khalifa, grabbed power after his father had died in March 1999 to establish the worst political regime in the region. The PM was sidelined and the power was concentrated in the royal court under Hamad and his sons. Bahrainis sighed relief at the departure of Khalifa who spread fear, torture, corruption and absolute dictatorship. People’s hopes of an end of tyranny were dashed when Hamad became ruler.
Pressure is mounting on UK government to change track of its policy on Bahrain. British figures such as former senior army officers and the former MI6 controller for the Middle East, have been advising Hamad at a time when security forces have severely cracked down on dissent. The Queen has personal links to Hamad. Since his retirement as MI6 as controller for the Middle East in 1999 Geoffrey Tantum has advised Bahrain’s dictator, for over 20 years. Tantum was knighted by the Queen for “outstanding service” to UK/Bahrain relations.
Three native Bahraini orators (lamenters) were slapped with prison sentences ranging from one year to three months behind bars. Abbas Al-Ghasra, Mahmoud Al-Fardan and Jaafar Fadhel were jailed for their participation in religious mourning ceremonies.
Worrying updates have been received from the notorious Jau Prison in Bahrain. Prisoners who were moved from Building 4 to 21 have reported the following:  the majority of prisoners are sick with flu symptoms, but the authorities have not tested them for Covid-19, the installation of CCTV inside of cells monitoring their every movement, overcrowding in the cells, forcing some prisoners to sleep on the floor. When a prisoner asks for a Covid-19 test, he is told that he will be put into isolation even if he does not test positive. Also, the prisoners are limited to five contact numbers. The cost of the calls is expensive and those who refuse to be recorded are banned from making calls. Personal belongings have been seized, forcing prisoners to buy new essential items from the prison shop. Some prisoners will likely go on strike
In the wake of Trump’s defeat in the US presidential elections an atmosphere of disappointment, unease and anxiety is sweeping through the ruling elites in the Middle East, especially the GCC countries who have backed him against president-elect Joe Biden. Pressures are mounting on Biden to present a different approach to foreign relations, support democratic transformation and stand firm against human rights violations especially in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. “President Biden’s promise to make democracy and human rights a priority in our foreign policy and to reassess our cooperation with abusive governments in the Middle East must start by ending America’s own contribution to human rights abuses in the region,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of DAWN. “That means not only fulfilling his stated commitment to end U.S. support for the disastrous Saudi-led war in Yemen, but also ending military support to systematically abusive governments, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel.” Bahraini opposition believes that the US reputation may partially be restored if the new administration breaks away with those of the successive former presidents especially Donald Trump who had supported those abusive regimes and saved Saudi killers.
Pressures are also mounting on Saudi regime to release political prisoners especially women detainees like Lojain Al Hathloul and Naseema Al Sadah. It is now widely believed that the crown prince will rush to fend off possible prosecution for his criminal activities especially his role in Khashoggi’s murder. He is expected to order the release of women political prisoners and perhaps some of the detained academics and activists.
Women members of Irish parliament have called on their government to summon the Saudi ambassador over the continued detention of women prisoners such as Loujain Hathloul’s treatment in prison, and to explain why she is being denied regular contact with her family.
Amnesty International (AI) has taken up the case of woman prisoner Nassima al-Sada and launched a campaign to get her released by the Saudi jailers.  AI said: Nassima is in prison for her work defending women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. She goes months without seeing her children or lawyer. Sign the petition now to demand her freedom.” She urged people to write to the Saudi authorities to: Immediately and unconditionally release Nassima al-Sada and all women human rights defenders and activists detained for their peaceful human rights work; and: Drop charges against Nassima al-Sada and all WHRDs and women activists on trial for their human rights work.
Bahrain Freedom Movement
11th November 2020 ([email protected], www.vob.org)

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