In Bahrain, they are throwing up barricades to their citizens’ right to protest – literally.
Photos posted on social media of Bahraini police officers erecting barbed wire fences around the villages of Sitra, Sehla, and Bilad Al Qadeem make it clear authorities would rather barricade Bahrainis in their own homes than let them proceed with anti-government protests planned today.
Last week, Bahrain’s King Hamad issued a royal decree that indefinitely suspends the right to free assembly in the capital Manama, and Bahraini authorities instructed British Airways to deny Bahraini rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja access to a London-bound flight on her way to Manama to observe the protests. On Monday, Bahrain’s Prime Minister said that the authorities would “forcefully confront the suspicious calls to violate law and order” and “punish those who stand behind them.”
For all the tough talk, the government’s attempts to prevent Bahrainis from exercising their rights to free assembly and expression – including placing them behind barbed wire barricades – are completely unjustified.
A statement issued last week by the protest organizers is starkly at odds with the violent rhetoric of the Bahraini government: “Come out on your feet or in your cars, in all forms of transport. Come out on your bikes or your wheelchairs. We call on you to walk as individuals, not as groups, without chants or banners […], and to resist the regime’s incitement to confrontation or violence.”
Bahraini authorities have a grim recent history of using excessive and lethal force to suppress peaceful protests, followed by the persecution of protesters and even doctors who treated their wounds.
So far, the response of the Bahraini authorities to the planned peaceful protests has been neither appropriate, nor proportionate. Even if these draconian measures succeed in preventing tomorrow’s protests, in the long term, threats of violence and suppressing demonstrations are only likely to fuel tensions, a point that Bahrain’s western allies should make publicly and forcefully.