The roundup of health workers who treated injured protesters set the tone for the furious and uncompromising reaction by Bahrain’s government to a popular uprising in 2011.
The authorities arrested doctors, nurses and others on charges ranging from violating medical neutrality to plotting to overthrow the government. Some of the health workers said they were tortured in prison, drawing outrage from medical groups around the world.
The arrests were part of a broader crackdown that started with the uprising, fueled by calls by the Shiite majority for greater political rights from the Sunni monarchy. Though the health workers were eventually released, after trials that lasted for months, their arrests were a measure of the deep schism in Bahrain’s society that has troubled the tiny island nation now for years.
Since the revolt, Bahrain has settled into a seemingly inescapable, debilitating rhythm of repression and increasingly violent protests. When elections were finally held, they were boycotted by the opposition, deepening the impasse. Attention to the domestic conflict — commonly referred to as the forgotten revolt — waned as wars erupted around the region. Bahrain shored up support from allies abroad, including the Obama administration, by joining the international coalition against the Islamic State and, more recently, the Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting the Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The government commissioned an independent report to address complaints about abuses by the authorities during the uprising, and said it has carried out important security and political reforms. Its critics have seen a different trend, of closer cooperation between Bahrain and other Persian Gulf monarchies using similar, repressive tactics to beat back what they view as common threats: from Iran, their rival in the region, but also from pro-democracy activists who challenged the power and legitimacy of their governments.
The authorities’ methods have remained essentially unchanged, even though their opponents are increasingly hemmed in. With Bahrain’s prisons full of opponents, a recent report by Human Rights Watch suggested that conditions had not improved much since 2011, when the health workers were locked up.
Inmates at Jaw Prison told Human Rights Watch that guards who responded to a bout of unrest at the prison kept them outdoors for weeks. At one point, the prisoners were made to “walk on their haunches in a circle,” the group said, while the guards doused them with cold water and forced them to chant pro-government slogans.
The Trials of Spring is a six-part series about women who played important roles in their countries during the Arab Spring. The series is presented by The New York Times in conjunction with a feature-length documentary produced by ZAG Line Pictures LLC in association with Fork Films, Artemis Rising Foundation and the Center for Independent Documentary. For more, visit thetrialsofspring.com.
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(via NY Times)