When, back in 2001, King Shaikh Hamad bin ‘Issa Al Khalifa of Bahrain freed hundreds of political prisoners and announced a new national charter, there was a real sense of hope that human rights and meaningful political reform were on the way. Sadly, since then, respect for human rights in Bahrain has been in steady decline; in recent months it has been in freefall. The possibly imminent execution of four men sentenced to death in a secretive military court could mark its final collapse.
The four men, Ali Abdullah Hassan al-Sankis, Qassim Hassan Matar, Saeed Abduljalil Saeed and Adbulaziz Abdulridha Ibrahim Hussain, were sentenced to die for killing police officers during protests last month. Three other men, Issa Abdullah Kadhim Ali, Sadeq Ali Mahdi and Hussein Jaafar Abdulkarim, were sentenced to life imprisonment. All 7 maintain their innocence.
The crime for which these men were convicted is of course a serious one, but their convictions came after they were subjected to incommunicado detention, putting them at risk of torture, and after a closed-door trial in a special court created for the current state of emergency. The state of emergency itself (or, “State of National Safety”) gives the government broad and vaguely defined powers with no human rights guarantees at all.
These death sentences also come in the midst of other grave human rights abuses, including torture, detention of protesters, and the deliberate targeting of medical professionals for doing nothing more than their professional duty. These are dark days for human rights in Bahrain, but the King can still pull his government back from the brink. Overturning these death sentences would be a small but important first step.