King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa today paid a visit to the Headquarters of the Bahrain Defence Force and appeared to address a speech made by Sheikh Ali Salman that criticised the military force.
Bahrain News Agency reported on the visit made this morning and printed the full speech made by the King.
Believed to be referring to the speech of Sheikh Ali Salman he said, “Our armed forces are the protectors of the nation’s achievements and everybody must know that whoever disrespects the forces or its leaders is in fact abusing us.”
He then went further to suggest action may be taken against the Al Wefaq General Secretary for his speech. “We cannot tolerate any irreverence of our beliefs, social values and armed forces in the name of freedom of expression. All competent executive agencies have to take the necessary measures to address these violations in accordance with the law.”
In addition the King argued, “We have these days heard about voices and tribunes fueling hatred and abusing freedom of expression.” This suggests the right of freedom of expression should not apply when criticising regime officials.
This is something proven in recent weeks with the detention of Nabeel Rajab, for expressing his opinions. New plans were also unveiled today to potentially criminalise online dissent.
Sheikh Ali’s speech was one of his most fiery since the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters began nearly 18 months ago. In the speech he directly addressed the Bahrain Defence Force Commander in Chief Field Marshall Sheikh Khalifa bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, saying ” You have to know that we have been raised to prepare for death. You have to know that with only two words of a Fatwa (religious command), this nation would give tens of thousands to martyrdom.”
Many in Bahrain were surprised by the tone of the Sheikh Ali’s speech, who is known for his moderate style. He once again reiterated the oppositions preparedness for dialogue and made clear the need for a continued peaceful approach from protesters.
However, the King was quick to rally around the BDF and indeed the Field Marshall, who is known as a hardliner within the ruling family.
Although both sides continue to say they are willing to commit to dialogue, this latest confrontation will likely heighten tensions on the island. The need for the King to personally respond to the opposition leader, also shows the seriousness with which Sheikh Ali’s speech was taken by the regime. It had been noted that local government media had strangely not reported the speech widely, possibly showing the level of surprise with which it was received.