March 1, 2013

Zainab Al-Khawaja Ruling Disregards Bahraini Rights

The latest evidence of King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa's resistance to self-determination and denial of human rights couldn't be more blatant. 

Arrested on Tuesday during a protest for Mahmoud al-Jazeeri, Zainab Al-Khawaja found herself back in a holding cell only for the moments before she was whisked away to a court. Al-Khawaja had joined protesters in demanding the proper burial of al-Jazeeri - the government is keeping his body in an attempt to dictate the funeral's location - when arrested by security forces. She was immediately charged with obstructing traffic, violating a regime structure and damaging property.

Since February 2011 Al-Khawaja has been arrested multiple times, endured physical and mental abuse from Bahraini security forces, and faces over a dozen charges related to "illegal protesting." All of her protests have been conducted peacefully, and many by herself. She is simply too popular and symbolic to leave on the streets, and too defiant against King Hamad's personal authority to escape retribution. Al-Khawaja is known to chants slogans and craft placards against the King, and was picked up in Tuesday with a sign that read "your prisons we don't fear."

She is regularly jailed because Bahrain's monarchy fears peaceful protesters more than violent ones.

Now, after being acquitted from a separate charge of insulting a public official (Bahrain's judiciary throws out certain charges while keeping the more severe ones), the monarchy's Court of Appeals has overturned the ruling and sentenced her to three months in prison. She joins her father Abdulhadi, activist Nabeel Rajab and other oppositional figures in the unfriendly confines of Bahrain's political prison system.

A major security crackdown or political jailing in Bahrain is often accompanied by statements of support for human rights, and Friday's ruling adhered to this pattern when Human Rights Affairs Minister Dr. Salah bin Ali Abdulrahman met with UNHRC Ambassador Remigiusz Achilles Henczel in Geneva. Bahrain has slipped through the UNHRC's sessions with ease, demonstrating the UN's level of compliance in Bahrain and its inability to defend the rights of those who are being trampled on by a power-hungry monarchy. None of the monarchy's words should be believed when its own actions oppose them. Promotion of human rights is mainly a political and propaganda exercise.

"According to a statement issued by the Human Rights Affairs Ministry, Dr. Salah congratulated Mr. Henczel on the new post and lauded the advanced level of the communication and coordination relations between the Ministry and the Human Rights Council, asserting that Bahrain is among the main supporters of the UN mechanisms in all fields, especially the human rights one."

Al-Khawaja's ruling is self-explanatory in its counterrevolutionary nature. Unfortunately the U.S. response was mute as usual, a reaction that jars with the Obama administration's attempt to restart a National Dialogue between the monarchy and opposition. No debate of national proportions can lift off of the ground in the current environment, but the monarchy has taken great efforts to portray the National Dialogue as a success.

It will crash again soon if this denial continues.

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