The suppression of the protesters came after Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council ? also known as the ‘kings’ club’ of six Gulf monarchs — sent 1,500 troops to Bahrain to aid repression which began on March 15. It soon became clear that the government is engaged in a savage onslaught on the entire Shia community ? some 70 per cent of the population ? in Bahrain.
First came a wave of arrests with about 1,000 people detained, of whom the government claims some 300 have been released, though it will not give figures for those still under arrest. Many say they were tortured and, where photographs of those who died under interrogation are available, they show clear marks of beating and whipping.
Facing little criticism from the US, otherwise so concerned about human rights abuses in Libya, the al-Khalifa family is ruthlessly crushing opposition at every level. Nurses and doctors in a health system largely run by Shia have been beaten and arrested for treating protesters. Teachers and students are being detained. Some 1,000 professional people have been sacked and have lost their pensions. The one opposition newspaper has been closed. Bahraini students who joined protests abroad have had their funding withdrawn.
Sometimes the anti-Shia bias is explicit. One pro-government newspaper prominently published a letter that compared the protesters to “termites” and the writer recommends exterminating the “white ants so they don’t come back.”
Al-Jazeera satellite television, based in and funded by neighboring Qatar, which played such a role in publicizing protests and their attempted repression, in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Libya, was initially much more reticent about events in Bahrain. But al-Jazeera revealed this week that the Bahraini police has been raiding girls’ schools, detaining and beating school girls, and is accused of threatening to rape them.
Usually troops and police make their raids on Shia districts at 1-4 am, dragging people from their beds and beating them in front of their families. Those detained face mistreatment and torture in prison. One pro-democracy activist, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, brought before a military court last week with severe facial injuries said he had suffered four fractures to the left side of his face, including a broken jaw that required four hours surgery.
Among the most experienced commentators on Iraq, he has written four books on the country’s recent history. He won the Martha Gellhorn Prize in 2005, the James Cameron Prize in 2006 and the Orwell Prize for Journalism in 2009.