Bahrain, Freedom of Expression Concerns, and Its Defense
Bahrain has received attention from human rights activists due to its dismal record in dealing with protesters. According to important international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the government of Bahrain has repeatedly repressed its citizens’ freedoms of expression as well as their right to association and assembly.
Excessive force and imprisonment have been used as a way to shut down political opposition and critics of the government. Since 2011 and the Arab Spring, protests in Bahrain haven’t really stopped. Protesters of the government and backers of the main opposition leaders have been present all through the country. Bahrain has instituted harsh laws to prevent escalation in these protests, but has gone as far as making any kind of public protest illegal in the capital.
What kind of defense does the Bahrain government have for its actions? In fact, representatives of the Bahrain government have repeatedly declared that all the actions taken by this government are lawful. The United States, the United Nations, and several governments have expressed concern about Bahrain’s treatment of political opposition figures, which have been arrested and imprisoned under flimsy pretext. According to the Bahrain government, all actions taken were legal. However, they fail to acknowledge that it is the laws themselves that are repressive and violate their citizens’ human rights.
Representatives of Bahrain insist that arrests have been made due to criminal activity and that political expression is tolerated in this country. However, they will generally consider any kind of criticism of the sitting regime as an incitement to violence. The official position is that arresting political protesters is necessary to protect Bahrain’s citizens, residents, and visitors. One of the main problems in Bahrain is that there is a Shi’a majority, but the ruling family is Sunni and has taken active steps in repressing members of the Shi’a population. More than sixty per cent of the population in Bahrain is Shi’a. The Sunni ruling family is backed, both ideologically and with resources, by Saudi Arabia, proponent of an ultra conservative variant of Sunni Islam.
Almost all Shi’a protesters have been peaceful, making their arrests and jailing completely unjustified. According to the Bahrain government, Shi’a protesters are backed by Iran and are part of this country’s attempts to interfere with Bahrain’s sovereignty. Bahrain’s treatment of its political opposition has not gone unnoticed. It has been the source for friction between the United States and Bahrain. It has also contributed towards alienating Bahrain in some way from other Gulf nations. It is unfortunate that what may have been originally justified as an overreaction to the 2011 Arab Spring has become a completely unjustified repression of dissenting politics and activism in this country.