Tens of thousands of Bahrainis are in the streets today, the second anniversary of the uprising in Bahrain, to protest the government’s lack of progress in moving toward a more democratic political process. But any Bahraini student who is absent from class will be expelled, and any teacher who does not show up for work will be fired, according to Jalila Al-Salman, a founder of the Bahraini Teachers’ Society.
Speaking yesterday in Washington, D.C., at a forum on the crisis in Bahrain, Al-Salman described the government’s wide-scale attacks on teachers, their organizations and the students who have sought to exercise their fundamental human rights. Al-Salman, acting president of the Bahraini Teachers’ Society, was released from prison Nov. 25. She was arrested three times for exercising her right to freedom of assembly, for demanding reforms in Bahrain’s educational system and for protesting the killing and suppression of protesters, many of whom were students. Mahdi Abu Dheeb, president of the Bahraini Teachers’ Association, is one of six teachers still incarcerated, as are nine students, Al-Salman said.
“We were targeted because we are unionists,” Al-Salman said. While in prison, she encountered 200 women who were tortured for taking part in the uprising “just because they were members of the union.” Al-Salman says she also was tortured in prison. She says she was denied access to her lawyer—meeting him for the first time as her trial began.
Thousands of public- and private-sector workers have been fired and hundreds of students have been suspended or expelled for their support of democratic change, says Al-Salman. The International Federation for Human Rights says that 80 people have been killed in Bahrain since demonstrations erupted Feb. 14, 2011. A wave of arrests and military trials that targeted hundreds of opposition leaders, union leaders, medical personnel and activists followed the government’s suppression of the uprising.
While most workers have been rehired after sustained international pressure, widespread employment discrimination against those who engaged in peaceful protest is forcing qualified workers, including teachers, to take employment in other fields. So-called volunteers have replaced some teachers and test results show that Bahrain’s once admired schools have become poor performers. Al-Salman said the government has placed informers in schools to report on those supporting more democratic freedom, further chilling the learning environment.
The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry last year found that the authorities had grossly exaggerated, if not manufactured, many claims brought against thousands of ordinary people who had been caught up in the Feb. 2011 protests. But since the report was issued, “the situation in Bahrain is worse than ever before,” said Khalil Al-Marzooq. A panelist at yesterday’s event, Al-Marzooq is assistant secretary general for international and political affairs of the Al-Wefaq Political Society in Bahrain. Al-Wefaq is among groups that called for major rallies today in Bahrain.
Although the Bahrain government has agreed to a national dialogue to address the crisis, neither Al-Salman nor Al-Marzooq expressed optimism about its outcome. Holding political prisoners is not a good sign that the government is serious about dialogue, said Al-Salman.
“Key figures who are in jail should be at the table” in the negotiations.
Another bad sign: A webcast of the panel, “The Crisis in Bahrain: Is a Negotiated Solution Possible?” sponsored by the National Endowment for Democracy, was blocked in Bahrain after panelists began speaking.