'Je Suis Hypocrite': Bahrain Suppresses Free Expression, Allows Isis Supporters Freedom

There is no doubt then that no phrase could sum up the Bahraini government more fittingly than Je Suis Hypocrite...

The attack on Charlie Hebdo which left 12 dead scars the mind and forces us to consider the fragile power of free speech and the very real threat of ISIS and Al Qaeda, almost anywhere in the world. The words which have embodied this whole tragedy, Je Suis Charlie, makes a defender of free speech out of every person who repeats it.

That is why the world leaders' march in the Sunday Paris rally drew such criticism. When so many of those leaders - from Israel's Netanyahu to Turkey's Davutoglu - have suppressed journalists and imprisoned people from their free expression, it is no wonder their march was the butt of many jokes: Je Suis Hypocrite!

For Bahrainis, the hypocrite was Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa. Bahrain has the second highest number of journalists imprisoned per capita in the world. Bahraini laws allow a person to be sentenced for up to 7 years and fined BD 10,000 (USD$26,500) for insulting the King - a crime many are already imprisoned for. Anti-speech laws are used to their fullest effects to silence human rights defenders and political activists. The highest profile case is that of Ali Salman, leader of the large opposition party Al Wefaq, charged with inciting hatred against the regime and currently detained.

Attacked Protest in Bahrain calling for the release of Shaikh Ali Salman, Courtesy of Mazen Mahdi

Yet it is the case of Nabeel Rajab, human rights defender and President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), which highlights the greatest hypocrisy of all in Bahrain. He faces up to 6 years for insulting the Ministries of Interior and Defence for a tweet. On 28 September he tweeted:

On 20 January 2014, a court is expected to pass a verdict.

Nabeel Rajab's tweet was not without basis. At least one ISIS recruit, Mohammad Isa Al-Binali, previously worked in the Ministry of Interior. Leaked copies of Ministry of Defence publications - one is titled "The Sunni Light and the Darkness of Heresy" - promote sectarianism. Given that over 95% of the security forces are Sunni and have spent the last four years suppressing predominantly Shi'a protesters, the sectarian publications send a clear message of how the Bahraini government perceives its Shi'a population: as a problem. The practice of employing foreign Sunnis in the security forces, Syrians, Pakistanis, Iraqis and Yemenis among them, can only enhance this sectarian problem.

In the only time the Bahraini army has ever deployed, it suppressed the massive popular protests of February-March that year and led reprisals against demonstrators. The security forces bulldozed 53 Shi'a mosques, shrines and mourning houses. Then and now, arresting police officers insult the religion of Shi'a detainees. Back in 2011, Shi'a prisoners were not even allowed to perform ablutions and pray, while Shi'a clerics suffered some of the worst torture in 2011: one 50-year-old cleric was forced to drink his own urine, stripped naked and threatened with rape.

With the Bahraini government directly sponsoring sectarianism within its security sector, it is no surprise that some of these men have left home to join ISIS. Supporters of ISIS have greater freedom than supporters of democracy. ISIS Supporters have openly requested donations in Bahraini mosques without arousing any government action. Meanwhile, Nabeel Rajab, who questioned the institutions which allow Jihadi ideology to grow in Bahrain, may soon be serving six years imprisonment.

At the same time this is happening, Bahrain is positioning itself a major regional ally in the fight against ISIS. Bahrain is building Britain a new naval base at its own cost, with the two countries using the threat of ISIS as a justification. Considering Bahrain's tiny population and huge security sector it should not be so difficult to identify and prosecute Jihadis in the country. Yet, while the prisons and detention centres overflow with people imprisoned for expressing their opinion, the government allows Jihadis to go about their activities, and even helps to create more potential recruits for ISIS with its security policies.

There is no doubt then that no phrase could sum up the Bahraini government more fittingly than Je Suis Hypocrite.

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