The below report lifts the curtain on Bahraini opposition societies which – despite their rhetoric – have a deeply disturbing record for human rights. These societies have campaigned intensely against the rights of women; have involved children in acts of violence and illegal activity; and advocate a highly problematic social and political agenda.
The human rights record of Bahrain’s leadership has been discussed in great detail. Citizens for Bahrain’s criticism of such human rights reports has centred around the fact that these reports tend to ignore abuses committed by the opposition. In order to redress this balance, the below report looks into abuses of fundamental human rights by the opposition.
By “opposition” we refer to the loose coalition of societies and entities that have been engaging in political activity against the Bahraini authorities over the last three years. This includes entities like Al-Wefaq Islamic Society and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights; as well as more militant entities with a similar agenda like Al-Ashtar Brigades and the February 14 Coalition, which have no legal status and have claimed responsibility for attacks.
Abusing the human rights of Bahrain’s children
The opposition has a deliberate policy of politicizing and radicalizing children as young as eight and twelve years old; and using them in illegal activity associated with rioting; such as tyre-burning, building roadblocks and throwing rocks at police.
On 5 March two children were seriously injured after militants coerced them to carry an explosive device to be used in an attack.
Children have regularly been used in such a way to mask the role of the entities behind them and to embarrass the security forces, who are then compelled to deal with minors engaged in criminal and terrorist activity.
Children are often encouraged to skip school in order to join protests.
In these small communities, parents and community leaders could easily get these radicalized children off the streets if there was a genuine desire to do so.
Religious leaders linked to the opposition have been particularly dangerous in brainwashing impressionable young minds, with theological justifications for engaging in violence and vandalism.
Abusing the human rights of Bahrain’s women
Opposition MPs, while in Parliament, blocked progress on a version of the Family Law that would cover the Shia community.
The Family Law protects the rights of women in matters like divorce, inheritance and custody of children. The opposition refused to engage constructively in adapting the Family Law in a manner that would be compatible with Shia principles. As a result, many Shia women have been compelled to visit Sunni courts to seek justice.
Al Wefaq Islamic Society stated that only religious leaders could interpret the law for issues related to women, because elected MPs could ‘misinterpret the word of God’. In 2005 Al-Wefaq and leading Shia clerics mobilized thousands of protesters against reforming the legal status of women. This puts tremendous power in the hands of local judges trained in Islamic law, who can exercise their own judgment in deciding the law on family matters; usually in favour of men.
The protest movement has effectively reduced freedoms for women in their communities. Protests are rigorously segregated, with men and women being compelled to march down opposite sides of the road. Their attitudes towards women, based on Islamist principles, give little optimism for a progressive attitude towards women if they gained greater political influence.
“There is a total absence of women in Al-Wefaq’s higher leadership as well as an absence of Sunni membership, making Al-Wefaq an exclusively male, Shiite partisan club that is inspired and directed by clerics. Since Al-Wefaq’s boycott of parliamentary elections, three women have gained parliamentary seats, in comparison to none in previous elections in which only men were nominated and sponsored by Al-Wefaq;” Sameer Khalfan – Fikra Forum
Abusing freedoms of religion
The political unrest has greatly inflamed sectarian tensions. The dominant influence of religious figures within the opposition has been instrumental in polarizing society and politicizing religion.
The religious leadership of groups like Al-Wefaq has abused the pulpit to radicalize their supporters – including children – and have tried to give religious justifications for rioting and unrest; such as telling impressionable youngsters that if they are killed in such confrontations, they will be martyrs.
Abusing the human rights of non-Bahraini residents
Several South Asian workers were killed and many were hospitalized in the early days of the unrest by mobs of protesters trying to spark a crisis by forcing foreign workers to flee the country, as documented in the BICI report (pages 246-247 & 367-373).
Opposition groupings like the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) actively ignored the cases of victimized foreign workers. When injured expats were taken to Salmaniya Hospital, which had been taken over by opposition activists, treatment was sometimes refused and these victims were sometimes subject to further abuses. Some of these cases are documented in the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry report (BICI report pages 190-194).
Several South Asian workers have subsequently been victims of improvised explosive devices planted by opposition militants.
Security personnel of non-Bahraini origin have also been singled out for attack by the opposition media. By routinely denouncing them as mercenaries, this paved the way for bomb attacks against such security staff.
Dishonestly representing the human rights situation in Bahrain
Political groups like the Bahrain Center for Human Rights have masqueraded as human rights groups in order to propagate biased and incorrect information and to gain undue influence with human rights groups abroad. The opposition’s narrative incorrectly paints a picture of a brutal crackdown against protestors.
On the contrary, larger protest rallies have been granted permits by the authorities and despite spiraling levels of violence during rioting, there have only been six regrettable deaths of protesters in confrontations with the police over the past two years.
Denying freedom of expression to Bahrainis
The opposition’s propaganda to overseas audience presents itself as representing the views of all Bahrainis. It vigorously denounces all those speaking out in favour of Constitutional Monarchy or who oppose the growing radicalism of the opposition.
Within Shia communities, those who oppose Al-Wefaq’s political stranglehold do not dare to speak out. Businesses which have ignored opposition calls for a general strike or which haven’t toed the line have been firebombed or vandalized.
Those who oppose the opposition in the social media have been viciously attacked. Social media accounts have been hacked or forced to close down as a result of hostile actions by opposition-affiliated cyber-activists.
Denying the right of Bahrainis to exercise their political freedoms
By boycotting the Parliament for over three years, the opposition has hampered political life in Bahrain.
Opposition societies should stop trying to achieve their aims through agitation and undermining the political system. They should return to Parliament and seek change through the ballot box.
The use of terrorist methods by militants attempts to produce a political atmosphere unsuitable to open debate and the free expression of views.
In March 2011 three opposition societies: Haq, Wafa’a and the Free Bahrain Movement declared a “Coalition for the Republic”; the blueprint for forcibly overthrowing the Monarchy and setting up an Islamic Republic based on Iranian principles (BICI report pages 115-116);a system that would have disasterous consequences for the political freedoms of Bahrainis.
Abusing the right of citizens to be safe from fear and coercion
In the days leading up to major opposition events, businesses and schools have been threatened with attack if they don’t close.
Widely circulated leaflets threaten such institutions that they must “suffer the consequences” if they remain open.
Dozens of attacks against schools and businesses show that these are not empty threats.
The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, with support by other opposition bodies instigated a “Wanted” campaign, both against certain Government employees and private citizens.
Rather than advocating justice through the courts for cases where evidence of abuses exists; the BCHR campaign legitimizes vigilante violence against people against whom nothing has ever been proven in a court of law. This is not how proper “human rights” groups behave.
Inflaming sectarian tensions for political ends
Three years of unrest have profoundly damaged the social fabric of Bahrain and has created dangerous tensions between Sunnis and Shia.
Major opposition groups like Al-Wefaq Islamic Society have an essentially sectarian agenda; for example; leading opposition figure Abdulhadi Al Khawaja was recorded promising his followers they would get a “Shia Prime Minister”.
Rhetoric by leading religious figures like Ayatollah Isa Qassim has tried to give religious dimensions to political disputes (militants who have died during attacks are called ‘martyrs’); and has tried to create a sense among the Shia community that it is systematically victimized and oppressed.
In reality, Shias are broadly well-represented in most walks of life and poverty isn’t a purely Shia phenomenon in Bahrain. By ‘sectarianizing’ a political dispute, the opposition has damaged Bahrain in ways that will take a generation or more to address.
Abusing the right to life of citizens and security personnel
The impoundment of weapons and explosives smuggled from Iran and Syria at the beginning of 2014 prove the seriousness of militant opposition groups in staging attacks against public places and the security forces.
Thirteen police have been killed by opposition militants during the unrest and many civilians have also died in attacks.
Abusing the right of Bahraini families to live in a pleasant and healthy environment
The burning of large quantities of tyres in specific areas, blocking roads, throwing rubbish and covering walls of private homes with graffiti have contributed to severely damaging the environment of many localities.
In particular, the burning of tyres and other plastics and waste materials releases dioxins and other toxic fumes into the atmosphere.
The worst victims of this are those who live within protest hotspots and have to suffer the consequences of nightly rioting; including tear gas after militants draw policemen into violent clashes within the residential areas.
Abusing the rights of workers to benefit from economic activity
A central part of the opposition’s strategy was trying to wreck Bahrain’s economy. Therefore, it is not surprising that hundreds of small businesses have been forced to close as a result of continuing rioting and political unrest. This has certainly damaged economic growth and increased unemployment.
Forcing the cancellation of the 2011 Grand Prix cost the national economy millions of dollars and in successive years the opposition have continued to campaign against an event which provides hundreds of jobs.
The opposition’s own predominantly-Shia communities have been disproportionately affected from business closure, which has paradoxically stoked the unrest by producing hundreds of unemployed and disaffected young people.