Sandwiched between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Bahrain sure feels it needs to stir up internal politics to keep up with the Joneses. The subtle infighting between its Sunni/Shia population just isn't exciting enough. The simmering mistrust must come to the surface for all to see. And the date for the showdown was today.
According to the Bahrain Human Rights Centre, its president Abdul Hadi Al Khawaja along with political activist Hassan Mushaima were arrested at 6am (Bahrain time) this morning, when armed masked men dragged them out of their beds and took them to the Public Prosecutor for questioning.
The two are members of Haq Movement, a splinter group from Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, which is the largest political group in Bahrain. Since the establishment of political parties is banned by law in this fledgling democracy, such gatherings of like-minded individuals are called societies. Al Wefaq has also secured 16 (plus 1 non-member who enjoys their support) seats in the country's 40 member Parliament – the biggest bloc in the chamber which shares its powers with an appointed 40-member Shura or Consultative Council. Confused about our form of democracy? Well, it is new and shaping up since Bahrainis were first allowed to go to the polls in 2004, following sweeping reforms initiated by His Majesty King Hamad. So let's give it a break and move on to today's showdown and see how bloggers reacted to it.
ِA third activist, Shakir Abdulhussain, was arrested too, but it was the first two, whose popularity led to massive street protests across villages all over the country, calling for their release. The result of the the chaos which shook the small kingdom was a meeting between Wefaq's MP bloc and Bahrain's Interior Minister and their subsequent release at about 8pm (Bahrain time).
“After a 7 hour wait and interrogation, the President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights Mr. Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, and Mr. Hassan Mushaima, the Secretary General of the Bahraini HAQ Democratic Movement as well as a third activist, Shaker Abdul-Hussein, were released on bail on Friday night. The charges against them are related to state security crimes including: an intention to change the governing system of the country, circulating false information, insulting the king and inciting hatred against the regime in accordance to articles 160, 165, 168, 172, 173 & 214 of the much criticized Bahraini Penal Code of 1976. If sentenced, the activist can face more than 10 years imprisonment.
“The release of the activists came following the eruption of demonstrations and intense clashes with security forces in several different parts of the country in reponse to the arrests this morning,” said the human rights centre site.
Khawaja was expected to speak at a talk in Washington DC, entitled Reform in Bahrain: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back? on February 13.
Blogger Mahmood Al Yousif gives us his two cents on the situation.
He says the title of the talk is “not a very imaginative”. This is because it is:
“a very much overused sentence in Bahrain – with justification, I might add. All you have to do is pick up any paper, on any day and read any political topic. Continue reading about that topic for a while and you will see – there in black and white – why Bahrain should most probably trade mark that “brand”.
“Nowhere is that brand more in evidence than in the political, freedoms and human rights scenes,” he writes.
He sums up the arrests as a fiasco and calls for their immediate release.
“What the government has achieved with this unwise move is proven the basic premise of the seminar. Bahrain does indeed takes one step forward, and several steps back!
Do they really think that the apprehension of a panelist will magically cancel the seminar? No, what they have also done is given the seminar both legitimacy and popularity! Just think of the headlines it will create now.
Is this really conducive to our situation?
Is there no one in power that will step forward with political courage and will and put a stop to all of this?
We are getting rather tired of all these situations.
All we want is to live with dignity for goodness’ sake. Is that too much to ask?
Release them. All of them. For the sake of the future of Bahrain,” he pleads.
But their release isn't taken lightheartedly by fellow blogger Silly Bahraini Girl.
“Why were they arrested and why are they being released if there were sound grounds for arresting them in the first place? is there a law in this country? what does justice mean? or is the reputation of bahrain a YOYO in the hands of little children who don't know what the hell they are doing or in which direction they would want to steer this country.
“A country becomes a country when it has institutions which uphold law and order. A country is only classified as one when it respects justice. And justice is not established by lip service…it is a huge responsibility which includes giving people way too many rights than some would love to let go of. After all, you cannot aspire to be treated as a citizen when you don't qualify as one,” she writes.
Chanad Bahraini describes the arrests as disturbing.
The arrests come a day after the sentencing of two other activists, in what is now known as the leaflet detainees.
Chanad says all the arrests:
of course, (are) deplorable, and makes clear exactly how this regime views freedom of expression in Bahrain. But let’s be serious. The real reason why this happens is because the regime knows they can get away with it. Even if the detainees are released after investigation, or if they are given a royal pardon after being sentenced, the government has achieved its goal: harassing and intimidating the people out of demanding their rights. So while the constitution may claim that the people are granted freedom of expression, the reality is that the regime reserves the right to freedom of intimidation.
Meanwhile, Al Yousif sarcastically called the leaflets duo Enemies of the State.
“Bahrainis Dr. Mohammed Saeed and Hussain Al-Habshi start serving their time in prison today for voicing their political opinions. The first for a year, the second for 6 months. Isolated from their jobs, their families and their community simply for voicing a political opinion which the government interpreted as tantamount to carrying arms and forcibly mounting a coup to change the ruling regime.
“For just printing and wanting to distribute a document written by a dissident – a national figure nonetheless – calling for the boycott of the recently held national elections,” wrote Al Yousif.
This brings us to today's pressing question: Is speaking up and pushing for more rights the right way to go about in a country where you know you could be subjected to detention and investigation?