Only a handful of low-level police officers have been convicted of mistreating detainees during the 2011 uprising. The lack of transparency surrounding these convictions casts doubt on whether the guilty are serving jail time. Meanwhile, human rights activists such as Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab remain imprisoned.
In January, 13 Shiite political activists’ sentences were upheld. They had been convicted of dubious charges such as conspiring to overthrow the government, all of which the UN and human rights groups have deemed unfair and politically motivated.
Bahrain’s government harms itself and its people by violating human rights and religious freedom. Every day it continues, Bahrain moves closer to what it fears the most: rising sectarian violence leading to the country’s unraveling — it is, in essence, a self-fulfilling prophecy.
As studies have shown, societies where religious freedom is violated are less stable and secure.
Bahrain’s activist prisoners provide a human face to what is happening. We must not forget them, and Congress has taken steps to keep them front and center. As part of the Defending Freedoms Project — an initiative launched by Reps. Frank R. Wolf, R-Va., and Jim McGovern, D-Mass., of the House’s Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in conjunction with USCIRF and Amnesty International USA — McGovern selected Rajab as one of its first prisoners of conscience. He did this to spotlight Rajab’s case and what is occurring in Bahrain. Congress should stand as one with Rajab and others like him.
Let the message to Bahrain be this: Embrace true dialogue and demonstrable reform while there is still time.
Katrina Lantos Swett is the chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. M. Zuhdi Jasser is a USCIRF commissioner.