Bahrain crackdown ahead of protests

Tomorrow, August 14, is Bahrain’s Independence Day and opposition activists, mostly from the kingdom’s Shia majority, have called for mass demonstrations to press for a "free and democratic Bahrain". 

In turn the kingdom’s rulers – from the Sunni minority – have banned protests in the capital, along with a host of other repressive measures, and have unleashed a fierce propaganda campaign against demonstrators in the local media.

"The government will forcefully confront the suspicious calls to violate law and order and those who stand behind them through decisive measures," the 77-year-old prime minister, Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, warned. (Sheikh Khalifa, an uncle of the king, is the world’s longest-serving prime minister, having held the post continuously since 1970.)

Under a new edict – one of 22 announced last month – the regime is threatening action not only against those who “disturb civic peace” but also those who “support” such action.

"Terrorists, and those who provide them legitimacy and political cover, will be punished," Sheikh Khalifa said yesterday. "Those who support such calls will also be punished based.”

The prime minister’s warning dominates today’s front page of the pro-government Gulf Daily News which has a headline in large capital letters saying “VOW TO END TERRORISM”.

Although some of Bahrain’s protesters do use violence, it is generally not what most people would regard as terrorism. Molotov cocktails seem to be the preferred weapon. Today’s Gulf Daily News reports the seizure of some “terrorist” weaponry:

“A large number of Molotov cocktails, 11 home-made shotguns, ammunition, 13 gas cylinders, many fire extinguisher guns, a large number of tyres, iron rods and other materials used in terrorist attacks were confiscated.”

The accompanying photograph also appears to include a collection of hard hats, as used by construction workers.

Elsewhere in the Gulf Daily News, shopkeepers are 
informed that they will lose money (obviously) if they close because of demonstrations. The Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry is urging them “to inform the relevant authorities if they are threatened, intimidated or blackmailed”.

This is apparently in response to a flyer circulated in English and Arabic "inviting" shops to close from 8.30pm tonight until Thursday morning.

The Gulf Daily News also says the kingdom’s main trade unions have urged workers to ignore calls for a general strike. Human Rights Watch notes:

Law 33/2002 bans unions from “engaging in political activities” and imposes numerous restrictions on the right to strike. 

According to article 21, trade union members can strike only if 75 percent of the general assembly of the particular union approves the action and after they fail to resolve issues with their employer. Before going on strike they must give two weeks’ notice to the employer and also notify the Ministry of Labour.

The law bans strikes in “vital and important facilities” such as “security, civil defence, airports, ports, hospitals, transportations, telecommunications, electricity, and water facilities.”[305] In November 2006, the prime minister issued an edict prohibiting strikes in additional sectors on the grounds that strikes in those facilities would “endanger national security and disrupt daily life of people.” 

The added facilities included “bakeries, all means of transporting people and goods, educational establishments and oil and gas installations.”

The government-controlled Alba aluminium company is urging some 300 of its workers to sleep on company premises tonight, “in case they cannot return home or if other employees get delayed due to clashes the next day,” the Gulf Daily News says. “It [Alba] has also directed company drivers to wait for staff members outside of trouble hotspots to avoid any potential road blocks.”

Meanwhile, the authorities have warned that “citizens and residents caught not carrying identification cards” will be fined up to 300 dinars ($792).

In another report, the Gulf Daily News says the (government-approved) Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society has written to the UN calling on Unicef “to condemn the acts of violence involving innocent children" and for “procedures against terror groups who are proven to be using children and exposing them to violence".

This reflects government accusations that children have been used as “shields” in demonstrations.

Posted by Brian Whitaker
Tuesday, 13 August 2013