On Tuesday, September 4th, a Bahraini court upheld sentences for 13 leaders of a revolt. The revolt was by human rights groups who are against the monarchy and believe that the Bahraini government should adopt a more democratic approach. The punishments included eight life sentences and four 15 year sentences. These sentences were imposed by the military court on the activists, because they allegedly plotted to overthrow the state after the state’s security tightened on pro-democracy protests in February 2011. The defendants, including Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, an imprisoned human rights activist who went on hunger strike this year, deny the charges and claim that they are only pushing for democratic reform.
The retrial of some of the activists by the civilian judiciary was allegedly part of the reform process. But the human rights activists argued that the affirmed verdicts clearly illustrate the lack of judicial independence from government. They also highlight the extent to which reconciliation remains a distant and unimportant goal for the Bahraini government. There are even various pro-government loyalists who not only support the verdicts, but praise them. These same loyalists have also called for no compromise with the activists or pardons for their leaders. Because of recent events, it is becoming even more apparent that Bahrain’s claims for reform are fraudulent. Brian Dooley of Washington-based Human Rights First stated: “The crackdown continues in the courts and on the streets and it’s time the international community rethought its relationship with the dictatorship.”
Youth activists claim severe abuse and torture by the security forces, who are more interested in jailing activists than moving toward a peaceful resolution. The activists have urged the Bahraini government to release the imprisoned political leaders as a confidence-building gesture before any direct negotiations, but the authorities have repeatedly refused this request. If the verdicts are in fact political, they send a strong message to the activists that democratic reform is anything but right around the corner.
The main issue is that the Bahraini government wants desperately for protests to stop, but they refuse to sit down with the human rights activists who are organizing the protests. Without compromise, a friendly resolution is not in the near future.
The main question that comes to mind is: are the sentences for the activists too harsh? Life sentences and 15 year sentences seem a little overboard for protesting against the government. Is there a better way to go about facilitating changes within the government other than protesting?
Sources: The Financial Times