Bahrain human rights activist Maryam Al-Khawaja says the government there is escalating its crackdown on protests in advance of a major opposition rally, and says that the regime continues to torture detainees. Al-Khawaja, President of The Bahrain Center For Human Rights, appeared on HuffPost Live Wednesday to discuss the Bahraini government's ban on protests as well as the cases of a photojournalist and blogger who were arrested and abused by police with host Ahmed Shihab-Eldin.
King Hamad's royal decree last week banned protests in the country's capital, Manama, and heightened "punishments" for those citizens who do not abide by the decree. The decree comes just two weeks before a major opposition rally planned for August 14, the celebration of Bahrain's independence from the United Kingdom. While the Bahraini government has framed the decree as an amendment to the 2006 Law on the Protection of Society from Acts of Terrorism, the United Nations has expressed concern over what exactly this entails. In addition to the revocation of citizenship for anyone found guilty of terrorism and an increased detention period, it also bans sit-ins, rallies, and gatherings in the capital.
Al-Khawaja told HuffPost Live that the decree merely legalizes practices that have been in place for years, and the government has begun increasing its crackdown on protestors in recent weeks.
"Basically they're in a sense legalizing things that they've already been doing. Whether we're talking about the revoking of citizenship, or the forbidding of protests within Manama -- this all something that's been in practice for a while now," she said. "What we've been seeing in the past couple weeks since the announcing of the planned protest on the 14th of August ... [is] a very severe escalation in the crackdown. Usually what we see is house raids and arrests during the night. But in the past couple weeks we've been seeing them throughout the day. We haven't even been able to keep up with the numbers on the amount of people being arrested and the amount of homes being raided on a daily basis."
With the arrests mounting, Al-Khawaja noted that often people are arrested without the opportunity to consult with a lawyer.
"In Bahrain people are taken to the the prosecution without the presence of a lawyer," she said, claiming that the government has reportedly implemented the new practice of taking those arrested to public prosecution at odd hours of the night when lawyers are typically unavailable. This was the case, she said, with recently arrested photojournalist Hussain Hubail.
She added that blogger Mohammed Hasan was arrested and abused by police. His attorney reported "visible marks of beating on his arms," and Al-Khawaja said that there were marks of torture on his back and lower abdomen as well.
"The majority of cases of people that we document who have been arrested have either been beaten and/ or tortured. It ranges ... from physical, to psychological, to sexual," said Al-Khawaja.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron met with King Hamad at 10 Downing Street on Tuesday.