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Mónica G. Prieto · (Beirut) / Translation: Blanca G. Bertolaza

  • Local soccer star Sayed Mohamad Adnan, a refugee in Australia out of fear of his regime, is an example of the extent of the repression the Al Khalifa dynasty puts its citizens through

Sayed Mohamed Adnan during a match (AP Photo)

Sayed Mohamad Adnan was the pretty boy of Bahraini sports. The local soccer star made the people and the regime happy: in 79 games he had scored 13 goals for the national team, and in 2009 he had been declared Asian Soccer Player of the Year. But falling from grace in the Al Khalifa dynasty’s dictatorship, in power since 1783, is as easy as asking for freedom. Adnan was kicked out of his team after being accused of putting the athletes against the regime during the February protests. When they started looking for him, he decided to get away from his country to protect his family. “I don’t fear that they might arrest me. My wife and son are happy (here). I feel safe in Australia”.

In May, Adnan went from soccer star to becoming a refugee. During a trip to Brisbane to visit some relatives hedecided to stay after being warned that the Security Forces were looking for him. His father was arrested and questioned on his whereabouts, his brother fled to Qatar for a few months. “My teammates were tortured into saying that I organized the march, exactly the same thing that happened to Ali Saeed”, he explained to Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar, in reference to the national team’s goalkeeper, who was forced to confess publicly.

A high-ranking Security officer has sent him a message through freed colleagues asking him to return, but the soccer player knows what is waiting for him. Possibly the same as three other international athletes recently sentenced to 15 years in prison for “starting a fire aiming to harm people or property, destroying farms, theft of material belonging to the farmers or possession of flammable explosives”, according to the authorities. The usual for three international handball players. The athletes were sentenced along with 27 other protesters, in one of the latest military trials directed by the regime to squash the social uprising that demands freedom and equality.

The Bahraini revolution has been kidnapped and silenced by the Al Khalifa regime with the complicity of the international community, which encourages the rulers’ impunity when it comes to silencing every dissident voice at any price. The military courts’ rulings against civilians –1,500 arrested, 180 sentenced for now– are getting harsher, regardless of who the defendant is. The critics that come from international NGOs are so serious that Bahraini authorities have been forced to revise the process against the 20 doctors and nurses sentenced last October 23rd on charges such as “inciting sectarian hatred” or “treating patients according to their religious cult”, “spreading false news” and “inciting the downfall of the regime”.

From left to right: doctors Nada Dhaif, Fatima Haji and head nurse Rula Saffar in the surroundings of the Court where they were tried on October 23, 2011. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)

The attorney was not happy with the appeal. “It means going back to court”, said Ali al Buainain. But there are reasons to for it, especially after Human Rights Watch interviewed seven of the 20 people sentenced: they reported serious abuse in prison and violations of their most basic rights. “The appeals court must decisively revoke unfair sentences and dismiss all politically-motivated charges”, said Joe Stork, HRW Middle East head and Bahrain specialist. “The new hearings cannot feature the allegedly forced confessions”.

A nurse at a protest. (AP Photo)

The reported abuse sounds familiar in Bahrain. Kicks, blows, isolation, electroshock, deprivation of food and water, sexual harassment, interrogations that last more than 12 hours, lack of access to lawyers… It has been suffered by everyone from the elite of the political opposition, many of them serving a life sentence, down to the last protester who joined the marches in February and March. Amnesty International fears that a group of 38 women and seven girls arrested while they took part in a protest in September were tortured. The repression of the Shiite majority’s protests, which makes up 70% of the population but suffers discrimination in comparison to Sunni citizens, is still usual.

(AP Photo)

It is ironic that the doctors were charged with instigating sectarian hatred. The accuser is a sectarian dictatorship that has blown up 200 Shiite temples. And that makes university students sign a document in which they swear loyalty to the dictatorship and to not get involved in any political or social movement, the Bahraini Center for Human Rights reported. Or that grants scholarships based on the students’ religious sect.

A protester covered in the blood of a fallen friend stands by Bahraini army tanks in February (AP Photo)

Education, which historically has been a place for the opposition to totalitarian regimes, has been another victim of the Bahraini repression. According to the BCHR, 78 students and more than 100 teachers have been arrested, but really they could be many more. Dozens are still in prison awaiting trial. About 500 were expelled from classrooms because of their participation in the protests, although many were readmitted. The teachers’ union leaders have been sentenced to more than 10 years in prison, and seven college students have been sentenced to 15 years. The situation is so dramatic that international initiatives have come up, such as this one to collect signatures and denounce violations against educators and students.

More sentences came out this Tuesday. The defendants were simple protesters demanding equality, democracy, and an end

Activist Zainab al-Khawaja (Hasan Jamali/AP)

to corruption -40 people died for doing so- but some of them as significant as Wafi al Ahmad. He is Zainab al Khawaja, prominent activist and brave daughter of the small archipelago’s most respected Human Rights activist, Abdulhadi al Khawaja, who quit his job as head of NGOs such as Amnesty International, HRW or Frontline Defenders to devote himself to the fall of Bahrain’s totalitarian regime. Her father had been sentenced to life in June, her husband was sentenced yesterday to four years in prison. They have a two year old boy. Zeinab, known on Twitter by her pseudonym @angryarabiya, broadcasted the hearing on the social network. “The judge in this case is from the Alkhalifa family, and he has been sentencing many political prisoners harshly”, she tweeted on Tuesday.

Teacher and union leader Jalila al-Saman hugs her 5 year old daughter, Hawra Shouqi, when she was released last August after five months in jail for taking part in the protests. (Hasan Jamali/AP)

The regime is a privileged ally of the United States –which keeps its Fifth Fleet anchored there- and of the almighty Saudi Arabia –which sent troops to support the Sunni dynasty from unarmed protesters. And it maintains an appearance of complete normality. It has set up an Independent Investigation Commission to investigate the reports of Human Rights violations, which has just postponed presenting its conclusions because of the avalanche of reports, 9000 to be exact. That does not prevent the United States Congress from “not seeing reasons” not to sign an arms deal –which includes Humvees and missiles- to Bahrain for $53 million. They must have believed king Hamad bin Issa al Khalifa when he told the UN General Assembly that “Bahrain, throughout its History, has managed to preserve its spiritual and civilized status, promote co-existence and tolerance without denying any social category, group or sect its right to express its opinion”.