I was sentenced to two years in prison for holding what authorities in Bahrain described as "illegal demonstrations" in 2012. In actual fact I was doing my legitimate and peaceful human rights work. I have been released in May this year, after serving the full sentence. My crime, if it can be called one, was defending the people's rights and calling for reform in Bahrain. But under the pretext that I had not acquired permission from the government for my protest, I was locked away. The real reason was to keep me silent: my role as the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, my advocacy on the media, including twitter and my relations with international human rights organisations and the UN system made me a threat to the undemocratic government and the Al Khalifa family that runs the country. Now that I am released from prison I can speak freely and engage myself in human rights work again.
The fearsome possibility of being re-imprisoned can't stop my work. During the time I that spent in prison, my country has transformed into a fully functioning security state. The police force, now made up of thousands of naturalised Bahrainis, mercenaries in all but name, control the streets. Law upon law has been passed to silence protesters. It is now illegal to demonstrate in the capital, or to criticise the king. Offenders are punished by a vindictive and non-independent judiciary. Parliament is too cowed to even question government ministers any longer. Also, prisons in Bahrain are at the moment with detained human rights defenders and political detainees. Since 2011, over 50,000 people have been in and out of jail. Over three thousands of them are now serving time in Bahrain's prisons, in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. Mass beatings and torture is a common occurrence. Although I was not tortured as badly as others, I witnessed other prisoners being beaten and tortured in front of my eyes.
The reality Bahrain's situation has not improved. Like most countries which saw uprising and revolution in 2011, it has only worsened. I am happy to say that the United States, one of Bahrain's closest allies and whose Fifth Fleet is station in my country, is keenly aware of these problems, though whether they will pressure the government to improve the situation remains to be seen. More concerning - and infuriating - is the British response to Bahrain's crisis. In 2013, the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs recommended that the FCO should "designate Bahrain as a 'country of concern'" in its next Human Rights Report. Despite overwhelming evidences that the human rights situation had only continued to deteriorate, the British Government refused to upgrade Bahrain to a country of concern. The government reasoned that a new dialogue with the Crown Prince was promising evidence of improvement. Even when the dialogue quickly fell apart, Britain has refused to take further action. But the fact is that there can be no meaningful dialogue when most of Bahrain's civil and political leaders are in prison.
In fact, when I was in prison, the British embassy in Bahrain telephoned my lawyer and asked him if I would keep quiet if I was released which proves that Britain does not want to hear about human rights violations in my country! And the reason for that is simple: Bahrain is buying Britain's silence with arms sales. In 2013, King Hamad personally visited prime minister Cameron in Downing Street to discuss the sale of war jets to Bahrain. This is a country which professes a commitment to democratisation, yet the message is clear: business interests are more valuable to Bahrain's western allies than democracy and human rights.
The first elections for the National Assembly are to be held in October this year, which is the first to be held since 2011's revolutionary event. The Assembly is democratically elected, but the royally appointed Shura Council has veto power over them and the constituencies are gerrymandered, with the largest constituency having 21 times the population of the smallest. The Bahraini opposition has already announced it will boycott the elections unless a real dialogue occurs. This is an important time for Bahrain: even if there was a 0% turnout, the government's PR machine will try to portray it as a success, and allies like Britain are willing to listen. I do not want to go back to prison - I fear it - but the risk is always there due to the nature of my human rights work, and we as human rights defenders and promoters of freedom and democracy, I will continue to peacefully strive towards are goals.
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