Bahrainis living abroad have been ordered to spy on their countrymen in the wake of a deadly crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.
Documents containing “loyalty pledges” — which also require expats to promise they will not protest against the tiny Gulf state’s government — have been sent to students attending university in the U.K.
Some Bahrainis told msnbc.com that they feel abandoned by Western leaders in the face of an alleged campaign of intimidation that extends far beyond the country’s borders.
Alaa Shehabi writes:
For the first time in its history, Bahrain has embarked on mass military trials of hundreds of civilians on fatuous charges of crimes against the state. While more than 1,000 remain in detention, the opposition estimates that 400 are going through the process of military trials and 100 have been convicted so far. The swift summary justice churned out in these tribunals are a throwback to early 20th century Stalin show trials, designed to punish and humiliate dissenters. One of those being tried is my husband, Ghazi Farhan. On June 21, he was sentenced to three years imprisonment.
Having been born and educated in the UK, I moved to Bahrain in 2009 to marry Ghazi Farhan, a 31-year-old energetic businessman, leaving a respectable job in Cambridge to start a new family life in the land of my ancestors. Little did I imagine that in 2011, when the Arab Spring hit the shores of this island, it would be swiftly nipped in the bud, and would sweep my blossoming family along with it.
On April 12, on his way back from his lunch break, my husband was abducted from his office car park. Blindfolded, handcuffed and taken away by unknown plain-clothed men. Some 48 days later, he was summoned before the Orwellian-named “National Safety Court”, a military tribunal. He was charged with participating in an illegal assembly of more than five persons (having visited the Pearl Roundabout) and spreading false information on the internet (referring to a single Facebook comment). Therein began an extraordinary ordeal of Ghazi’s military trial and his sentencing.
Joseph Stalin introduced “the show trial” – secretive military tribunals that bypass the judiciary – during the Great Purge of the 1930s. It appears that Bahrain has taken a chapter straight out of Stalin’s textbook, in which verdicts are predetermined and then justified through the use of coerced confessions, obtained through torture and threats against defendents’ families. The only new addition to this chapter is that the government of Bahrain has insisted, since the 1980s, on airing these filmed confessions on state TV – often with the defendant apologising to the king. Ayat al Qurmuzi, a poet sentenced to one year’s imprisonment for reading a poem critical of the king, had one such confession aired, possibly to pave the way for some kind of royal pardon.
Credible reports from now-free detainees who were held with Ayat have said how a toilet brush was forced into her mouth. All those on trial are “traitors to the state”, says the relentless propaganda of hate speech, spewed on state media – a chapter in the Arab Tyrant’s manual that could have been written by Goebbels. The media has described protestors as “termites” and Shia as “the evil group”; they have dehumanised “the other”, who deserve treatment worse than animals.
Since March, hundreds have shared a similar experience to mine. There are several stages to the ordeal that are particularly distressing for all involved. The first stage is the sudden arrest, in a dawn raid or at a checkpoint, or in some cases, at work, and then they are taken away to an unknown location by unknown forces and for long periods of time. In Ghazi’s case, 48 days.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports:
As the summer heat sets in, most university students in Bahrain are eagerly looking forward to getting out of class. But 19 year-old Mohammed and his friends are struggling to get back in.
Local rights groups say over 400 mostly Shi’ite students have been expelled from Bahraini universities in recent months, charged with participating in the “unauthorized protests” which shook the Gulf island kingdom earlier this year.
Mohammed, a second year student at Bahrain University, described a string of student dismissals since March, in which officials used protesters’ own Facebook postings and YouTube videos against them to identify students who joined demonstrations or criticized the government online.
“There is an aggressive with-us-or-against-us mentality,” he said, declining to give his full name for fear of further government reprisals. “If you went out to the streets to ask for your rights, now you must be punished.”