Teachers in Fight for Freedom
BAHRAINIS at London May Day rally
THE struggle in Bahrain was given a further tightening yesterday with the Interior Ministry announcing a ban on all protest gatherings, and threatening legal action against opposition groups that organise anti-government demonstrations.
Coming a year after the authorities cracked down with martial law, the move seems to have worried the regime's Western backers, whether because they are finding it harder to defend the repression or fear that tightening the screw too much mean it is near to breaking. The British government issued a statement expressing "concern" at what it called an "excessive" blanket ban.
Sheikh Rashid al-Khalifa, the interior minister, said that "repeated abuse" of the rights to freedom of speech and expression could no longer be tolerated. In future protests would only be permitted once security and stability were sufficient to maintain national unity.
The interior ministry said that any "illegal rally or gathering would be tackled through legal actions against those calling for and participating in it".
Bahrain's part in the Arab spring – the "Pearl Revolution" – was brutally ended last March, when Saudis and other forces moved in to help restore order. People were killed, and doctors who treated wounded protesters been put on trial for conspiracy. But the embers have ben smouldering since and flared up again recently with demonstrators chanting "Down with Hamad", the king.
Opposition parties say a full crackdown would mean throwing more people in jail and risking a bigger confrontation, as well as embarassing allies. More than two thirds of Bahrainis are Shi'a Muslims who have faced discrimination, and might look to Iran for support. But Bahrain hosts the US Navy's 5th Fleet, as well as providing ship repair and engineeting facilities in the Gulf, and has links with the US and Britain.
"I am concerned that the government of Bahrain has decided to ban all rallies and public gatherings until further notice," said UK Foreign office minister Alistair Burt, "We understand the government's concerns about maintaining law and order, especially when faced with increasingly violent protests, but a blanket ban of this nature is excessive. Peaceful protest is a democratic right. I hope the Bahraini government will rescind this measure as quickly as possible. I also call on protesters to desist from violent protest. Violent acts should be condemned publicly by prominent members in society."
On 21 October an appeal court upheld the guilty verdict against the Bahraini Teachers’ Association (BTA) leaders, Mahdi Abu Dheeb and Jalila al-Salman, but reduced their prison sentences to five years and six months respectively. Mahdi and Jalila, respectively President and Vice-President of BTA, were arrested in 2011 after supporting calls for reform in Bahrain. Whilst in detention they were subjected to torture and forced to sign “confessions”.
In September 2011, a military court convicted them of attempting to overthrow the ruling system by force and inciting hatred of the regime. The report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry last year found that the authorities had grossly exaggerated, if not manufactured, many claims brought against thousands of ordinary people who had been caught up in the February 2011 Arab Spring protests. Mahdi and Jalila’s only “crime” was to have the temerity to promote respect for the values of solidarity, equality and democracy.
The teachers' union network Education International (EI) is urging trade unionists and supporters of democractic rights to increase pressure on the Bahraini Government to respect human and trade union rights. "EI calls on authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Mahdi, to ensure that Jalila does not serve any of her remaining sentence, and to drop all charges against them".
Former Bahraini MP Ali Aswad will be giving an update on what has happened to Mahdi Abu Deeb and Jalila al Salman, as well as the wider picture of teachers, trade union and democratic rights in Bahrain, when he addresses a meeting in the House of Commons on November 12.
Ali Alaswad was an MP from the largest opposition party Al Wefaq. Elected in October 2010 , he resigned along with 17 other MPs in February 2011, in protest at the violent crackdown against pro-democracy demonstrators. During the period of martial law he left Bahrain after he was targeted by the regime and now lives in London where he continues his work for democracy in Bahrain.
Other speakers are Mary Compton, a member of the National Union of Teachers(NUT) here and editor of Teachersolidarity website, just back from a delegation to Egypt; and Anne Alexander of the MENA solidarity network which has organised the meeting. The joint chairs of the meeting will be Labour MP Katy Clark and Nick Grant, a member of the NUT national executive.
MONDAY November 12, 7.30pm
Eyewitness reports from Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain
Committee Room 8, House of Commons, SW1A 2TT
Mohamed Sghaier Saihi: UGTT union federation, teachers’ spokesman in the Kasserine region
Ali Alaswad: Resigned MP from al Wefaq Party, Bahrain
Anne Alexander: MENA Solidarity Network
Katy Clark, MP and Nick Grant, National Executive member, NUT
(NB It is always advisable to arrive early to events at the Houses of Parliament to allow time for queuing at security and getting to the committee room).