Since Bahrain’s pro-democracy uprising began in 2011, hundreds of peaceful advocates have been detained, tortured, and denied fair trials while the international community, including the United States government, offers generally muted criticism.
Unfortunately, I experienced some of the violations first-hand. I spent 18 years training and working in the United States before returning to Bahrain, where I’m head of the Bahrain Nursing Association.
After the 2011 uprising, I was one of dozens of medics targeted after treating injured protesters hurt during clashes with the regime. After being detained for months and tortured into making a false confession, I was convicted by a military court and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
I was one of the lucky ones who was later acquitted, but I had very few allies who stood with me in my fight for justice.
An exception was Rep. Jim McGovern, one of the few American leaders who has worked to secure justice for the people of Bahrain.
Mr. McGovern has consistently pressed for reform in Bahrain. He has chaired hearings on Bahrain and hosted a congressional briefing to discuss Human Rights First’s latest report on the country, where he warned that silencing dissidents in Bahrain has implications far beyond the kingdom’s borders.
Such repression also raises U.S. national security concerns.
“(S)uppressing the voice of opposition in Bahrain, whether through outright violence or the jailing of reform leaders, is simply an unsustainable strategy. It threatens, rather than enhances, stability in Bahrain; it threatens stability in the region; and therefore, it threatens U.S. strategic and security interests, including the basing of our Fifth Fleet,” he said.
The U.S. government needs more people like Mr. McGovern. When U.S. allies are guilty of torture and other human rights abuses, far too few American leaders are ready to speak out for what is right and to stand up for the principles of human rights.
Not much has changed in the kingdom since my acquittal. Peaceful opposition leaders continue to be targeted by the regime. Several of my medic colleagues are still in jail. While we thought the U.S. would do more, it has been slow to act.
The U.S. has its Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain, which many believe has played a role in the U.S. government’s silence in the face of Bahrain’s repressive crackdown. Many of us had looked to the U.S. government as one that would stand up for peaceful protesters, as it has elsewhere in the Middle East. But when it came to Bahrain, the United States did not project the same message that we heard U.S. leaders say about democracy in Tunisia and Egypt. That standard didn’t seem to apply to us.
Mr. McGovern is one of the few who has made it clear that he has no double standard when it comes to human rights. Since the beginning, he has been tenacious and committed to standing up for justice and freedom in Bahrain.
Whether the issue of Bahrain is fashionable in Washington or not, Mr. McGovern’s support remains steady. He’s not using our problems to score political points. He understands that Bahrain desperately needs change, and we need allies who stand up for real reform and are willing to take action to make it happen.
He’s one such ally and we wish there were more like him.
Rula Al Saffar is president of the Bahrain Nursing Society.