Around 100 people packed into a side event at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, to listen to first hand experiences of Bahraini activists. A day before the session on the adoption of the UPR, many wanted to hear the reality on the ground in Bahrain from those who are living it.
The speakers represented a cross section from Bahraini society, including Dr. Jasim Husain from Al Wefaq, Maryam Alkhawaja President of BCHR, detained Doctors Dr. Nada Dhaif and Dr. Roula Alsaffar, as well as Farida Ghulam wife of detained opposition leader Ebrahim Shariff. Renate Bloem, CIVICUS UN representative hosted and chaired the meeting.
Dr. Nada Dhaif began by outlining the general situation in Bahrain. She said, “I was here in May at the start of the UPR process and can confirm nothing has changed since.” She highlighted that Police are continuing the same treatment of peaceful protesters and even highlighted cases in which they had themselves used molotov cocktails in neighbourhoods.
Following on Dr. Rula Alsaffar spoke about her experiences when she was jailed and tortured after 14th February 2011. She made a strong call for the release of all political prisoners and spoke about the lack of medical neutrality, echoing Dr. Nada’s argument that hospitals have become militarised spaces.
Farida Ghulam, the wife of political detainee Ebrahim Shariff, spoke about the trials of political prisoners and the spurious charges they faced. She mentioned that some of the charges against individuals had come from confidential sources, removing any kind of accountability or normal practice for a fair trial.
Dr. Jasim Husain, resigned MP from Al Wefaq, talked about the economic situation in Bahrain with direct relation to the dismissed workers. Dr. Jasim told the room that unemployment had increased by 4.3% as a result of the campaign by the Government to sack opposition workers from their jobs. He described the illegality of such a policy and called on the authorities to “make a promise that they will never again fire people from their jobs, simply for their political views.”
Maryam Alkhawaja spoke last, eloquently describing the human rights situation in Bahrain at the moment. She indicated that the Foreign Minister would be heading the delegation of Bahrain, even though a few days before the arrest of Nabeel Rajab he had tweeted threatening statements to him.
During a lively discussion, some Government supporters questioned those on the panel, including a current MP who claimed that a Sunni mosque had been burned down. One accused Maryam Alkhawaja of breaching his human rights, although when another contributor paid tribute to Maryam, she received a long round of applause from the audience.
Mohamed Maskati of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights spoke about the death threats he had received after tweeting that he was in Geneva for the UPR. Likewise, Said Yousif Almuhafdah said he had been arrested twice before arriving in Geneva, after announcing he would be attending the UN.
In all it showed the thirst amongst many concerned individuals to hear the truth about Bahrain, not trusting the words of the Government.