Despite our accessibility and continuous communication with Foreign Policy in
correcting the misconceptions detailed in your articles, you continue to
endorse loose claims irresponsibly and avoid providing readers with an official
statement. This is evident in your most recent article, "Slouching Toward
Democracy" by Vanessa Tucker, and we'd like to take this
opportunity to promote balance through providing an official statement to the
The author begins her analysis by stating, "not every Arab Spring uprising has
produced democratic progress." We want to first clarify that the Bahraini government
never considered themselves a part of the "Arab Spring" movement, as the
demands supported by the uprising did not represent the majority of the Bahraini
population. Actually, Bahrain began on its path to democracy in 2002, well before
the regional upheaval. This resulted in constitutional reform and introduced
the bicameral Parliament, which has carried out three general elections to date.
This was a historic undertaking and an unprecedented move ahead of most
countries in the region. Therefore, for Tucker to suggest that "real reforms
have not materialized" in the last decade is an assertion drawn from ignorance.
Secondly, the author demeans the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry's
(BICI) report as another "democratic false start." This report was led by
renowned international experts and its critical findings were acknowledged and
accepted by the government, as well as most opposition parties and their leaders.
As a symbol of commitment, the government enforced a three-month self-imposed
deadline to implement the vast majority of the report's recommendations.
The government of Bahrain takes human rights violations very seriously, and has
instituted corrective measures to address them. Today, the Special
Investigation Unit (SIU) and an ombudsman in the Public Prosecution office
receive and address any complaints regarding human rights. To date, these
offices have probed 122 cases, including police officers up to the rank of colonel. Of the 122 cases, 13 were referred to court, resulting in three verdicts
against the officers. Investigations and legal action are ongoing. These are
more than a "few" held accountable. In fact, as recently as last week, the
Bahraini courts charged seven more police officers for mistreatment and torture
allegations -- all were lieutenants at the Ministry of Interior. Anyone with
genuine interest in the country's progress would have picked this up from the
highly publicized charges which were carried in international media.
Additionally, an ombudsman in the Ministry of Interior was established to
supervise the new police code of conduct and to discipline security personnel.
Reinforcing the government's insistence on policing reforms, the Ministry of Interior
announced last week that it is hiring 500 police officers, including 100 women,
from the country's five governorates, thereby making the police force more
representative of all communities. The Minister of Interior reaffirmed the
institution's move from public order policing to a human rights-based approach.
The new cadets will receive training in compliance with internationally
recognized human rights standards for the next six months. Moreover, the government has allocated $5 million to compensate those who died during
the unrest, covering all cases mentioned in the BICI report.
These are merely the most recent examples of the reform progress directed
towards human rights and not representative of all the steps Bahrain has taken
in recent years. The number of reforms implemented in this short period of time
were recognized and acknowledged by international governments in the recent U.N.
Universal Periodic Review, where Bahrain's acceptance of over 90 percent of the BICI
recommendations prompted the Human Rights Council to accept Bahrain's response
with no objections.
On the political front, amendments to the constitution last month granted a
significant shift of power to the democratically elected chamber of parliament.
These include further oversight and scrutiny over the government, and provide
that all new ministerial appointments must be approved by the parliament (who
can vote to reject the entire government, including initiating a
non-cooperation motion against the prime minister). It is quite bewildering how
the author can label the implementation of reforms as "stalled."
Another clarification Tucker appears unaware of is the fact that no medical professionals
were targeted during the unrest because they provided aid to injured
protestors. The BICI report stated
the medics "moved in and out of their roles as political activists and medical
personnel" and that most of the ground floor of the Salmaniya Hospital,
including the emergency section, the intensive care unit, and the
administrative section, was taken over and controlled by medical personnel,
resulting in difficulties in the emergency section.
Finally, it is important to highlight that Bahrain guarantees the right of
expression to all. The country has 20 political parties, all of which have
expressed their concerns through legal and peaceful means for many years. The
welcoming of the BICI Commission is a clear indication that the government does
not shy away from scrutiny, but invites it. However, the government rejects
this right when it is exercised through illegal methods. Obstructing and
causing harm to the lives of others, as well as to public and private property
is a violation of the right itself. The country has experienced many of these
so-called "non-violent demonstrations," which have resulted in injuries to over
1,500 officers, and thousands of vandalism cases.
Bahrain is a transitioning democracy, and as the author stated, this is
"unachievable overnight, or even in a few years." Yet the author's opinion and
dismissive attitude is indicative of the limited research that was carried out
before publishing this article. We would hope that in the future the opinions
and articles appearing in your magazine would be grounded in facts and provide
the opportunity for constructive debate.
VANESSA TUCKER RESPONDS:
the Bahraini government's claims of progress is the fact that the suppression of
nonviolent activism, as outlined in my article and detailed in the Countries
at the Crossroads Bahrain report, has continued
far into 2012.
government is still brutally clamping
down on protests. This includes its unprecedented "weaponization"
of tear gas, which has resulted in serious head and body wounds, an
increase in miscarriages
and respiratory illnesses, and more than 30 deaths.
government continues to deny
freedom of speech to its citizens. Activist Nabeel Rajab was jailed in July
2011 for an "insulting"
tweet in which he suggested that the prime minister was unpopular, and was
to three years in prison for "inciting" protests despite the lack
of substantive evidence of his supposed offense. A number of journalists
remain in exile and the government has also targeted social media users who
voice their dissent online. In addition, the government has on multiple
occasions refused or revoked
the entry of independent human rights groups seeking to investigate abuses.
three convictions of police officers Mr. AlBinali notes pale in comparison to
the many unjustified
convictions of human rights defenders, including the recent upholding of life
sentences for eight peaceful activists. Convictions against doctors that
Mr. AlBinali claims were not targeted were
recently upheld and protesters must
still avoid hospitals for fear of government harassment.
AlBinali points to Bahrain's participation in the U.N.'s
Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and acceptance of the UPR's (nonbinding)
recommendations as a demonstration of its efforts. But there is real reason to doubt that the
recommendations will be carried out given that the government later targeted the activists
who testified during the UPR process. They were also publicly ridiculed in the pro-government Al-Watan
failure to implement the BICI reforms is well-documented
and has been criticized by a collection
of governments and independent experts. Even
the U.S. government, which has been lenient toward Manama on this matter,
recently recognized that progress has
Mr. AlBinali describes a number of incremental political reforms over the last
decade, but elections to date have been manipulated
to weaken the opposition and the current prime minster (the king's uncle)
has been in office since 1971. Until the system allows for a regular and
peaceful rotation of power among competing parties or groups, it cannot be
regarded as democratic.
Bahraini government can continue
its very well-funded campaign
the ongoing abuses, or it can begin a genuine, good-faith
effort to build real protections for human rights.
Tucker is the director for analysis at Freedom House, and oversaw the
Countries at the Crossroads 2012.
Spencer Platt / Getty Images