Torture for blogging in Bahrain

This video says about itself:

BBC: Bahraini blogger Ali Abdulemam ‘tortured’ in jail with Shia opposition

16 December 2010

Bahrain blogger ‘tortured‘ in jail with Shia opposition

By Bill Law

Crossing Continents, BBC News

“He’s a writer, he’s a journalist, he’s a blogger. Ali does not belong to any political party. He just writes his opinion.”

Jenan Al Oraibi’s dark eyes flash beneath her black hijab. She is speaking of her husband Ali Abdulemam, known as the Bahraini Blogger.

We are talking in the home of her friends in a village close to Manama, the capital city of this Gulf island kingdom, which projects itself as an Arab state that is open to investment, progressive about change and moving confidently toward democracy.

“Ali has a free pen. That is exactly his crime. He has a free pen,” she says bluntly.

Ali Abdulemam is 32 years old. He worked as an IT specialist for the Bahraini airline Gulf Air. In his spare time he blogged.

But he was sacked from the airline after he was arrested in September and accused of being part of a terror organisation.

He was charged with spreading false information and linked to a group of Bahraini oppositionists who had been arrested in August.

Terror charge

All of the men charged are Shia. Some are academics, one is a dentist, another a geologist, several are clerics.

Like Mr Abdulemam, they have frequently voiced their criticism of a government they consider undemocratic and discriminatory toward Shia, who are Bahrain’s majority population.

The ruling Al Khalifa family are Sunni Muslims.

The men were initially charged with plotting the overthrow of the government, but the charges were subsequently reduced to financing and leading a terror cell.

It’s not the first time that Ali Abdulemam has been in trouble with the government because of his blog. In 2005 he was briefly jailed.

On his release he continued his criticism of the Al Khalifa government on issues like the detention of opposition leaders, the treatment of prisoners in jail and the suppression of free speech.

But nothing prepared his wife Jenan for what happened on 4 September.

“He got a phone call from the public prosecutor’s office, asking him for a meeting. So he went.” And that, she says, is the last she saw or heard from her husband for four weeks.

We were not able to know anything about Ali, no phone calls, nothing.”

For several weeks after his arrest Mr Abdulemam, like the others, was denied access to lawyers and to his family.

His final blog before he was taken into custody was a call to support the detainees.

“The last thing he wrote was for those prisoners, defending them and now he is one of them,” his wife says.

“The 23 detainees are all victims. They are all good people who have good jobs in this society. They are all innocent. My husband is innocent.

“They warned them, ‘if you speak of any mistreatment, any torture, we will torture you even more’. But they are really brave, they are heroes, they decided to stand up and say exactly what happened to them.”

‘No mistreatment’

At the first hearing on 28 October, most of the defendants alleged that they were tortured in order to extract confessions, a charge the authorities deny.

In a written response to a request from the BBC to comment on the allegations, the government stated: “Standard procedures are applied fairly to all detainees in custody in line with the law. Their rights are being protected and no mistreatment has occurred.”

Saeed Boumedouha of Amnesty International attended the first hearing as an observer, and confirms that when given the opportunity to speak, most of the defendants said they were tortured.

“Amnesty International remains very concerned about these allegations and we are continuing to press for an independent investigation,” Mr Boumedouha said.

Jenan is the mother of nine-month-old twin girls and a five-year-old boy. Since her husband lost his job, she is the breadwinner. But she feels under threat too.

“During his interrogation, they threatened my husband that I would lose my job as well,” she says.

When we visited her we were closely followed by plain clothed security officers in unmarked cars.

I asked her if she was concerned about repercussions because she had agreed to talk to the BBC.

“Definitely I am worried,” she said. “I am worried for my children. I am worried for myself. But I will be more worried if I don’t do anything.”

The next hearing in the trial is set for 23 December.

Source: here.

From the Washington Post in the USA today:

“We were subjected to torture, but no proper investigation has been done.”

Ali Abdulemam is a Bahraini blogger who founded Bahrain Online, a pro-democracy news Web site. He was arrested in 2005 and again in 2010 for “spreading false information” and was tortured while in prison. He was released in 2011 but went into hiding when his house was raided. In 2013, he fled to the United Kingdom, where he writes about human rights for Bahrain Watch, Global Voices and Bahrain Centre for Human Rights.

Dictatorial friends of United States governments

Former Chadian dictator Hissene Habre gesturing as he leaves a Dakar courthouse after a hearing on June 3, 2015. An official truth commission report in 1992 accused his regime of committing some 40,000 political murders -- although only 4,000 victims were officially named. (Photo: Sey Llousey/AFP/Getty Images)

From the Washington Post in the USA:

Five human rights abusers backed by the U.S. whom you never heard of

By Sudarsan Raghavan

September 8 at 5:18 PM

You’ve probably never heard of Hissene Habre, but you should have.

Your taxes helped fund his brutal regime in Chad in the 1980s for eight years. The former dictator was one of Washington’s many “men” in sub-Saharan Africa. Backed by American dollars, they brutalized their own people in the name of fighting communism or terrorism. They were feted by American presidents and invited to state dinners in Washington, even as they jailed and tortured anyone they deemed a threat to their way of life.

In Habre, the United States and its close ally France saw a way to counter Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi. Brought to power by covert CIA support under the Reagan administration, Habre’s security forces were trained by key American allies, including Israel and Saudi Arabia. Habre used them generously and lethally: His secret police are accused of killing some 40,000 people in political prisons between 1982 and 1990, according to findings by a Chadian truth commission. An additional 200,000 had been unjustly imprisoned and tortured.

Now, Habre is finally being held accountable. His trial for allegedly perpetrating crimes against humanity and war crimes began this week in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, where Habre, 72, has lived in exile, peacefully, for the past quarter-century. A special court, formed especially to prosecute him, will serve as a test of whether African nations, who have a long history of dictators among them, have the power and the will to punish one of its own members.

On Monday, Habre was hauled into court by masked guards as he shouted in protest and tried to resist being seated inside the court.

Justice could soon be served for all the relatives of Habre’s victims. But the support of vicious human rights abusers remains an integral part of U.S. foreign policy.

Here are five of the most egregious U.S.-backed violators operating today that Americans have never heard of.

[1.] Islam Karimov — president of Uzbekistan … has brutally quashed all political opposition and jailed dissidents and journalists. Human rights activists speak of forced child labor and systematic oppression of anyone who poses a threat to the regime. The most infamous abuse occurred in 2005,  when Karimov’s security forces fired into a crowd of demonstrators in the city of Andijan, killing hundreds, according to activists.

Now, the Obama administration is courting Karimov, seeing Uzbekistan as vital to U.S. goals in Afghanistan, as well as to fend off the growing presence of the Islamic State in Central Asia. This year, the United States gave about 300 armored vehicles to Karimov’s military, the largest donation of military hardware from the U.S. to a former Soviet Central Asian country.

2. Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa — king of Bahrain

Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa waves to reporters after a meeting with French President Francois Hollande at the Elysee Palace in Paris on Sept. 8. (Photo: Christophe Ena/AP)

The Sunni Muslim monarchy, led by Khalifa, cracked down heavily on largely Shiite protesters during 2011 Arab Spring revolutions with the help of soldiers from neighboring Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. More than 30 were killed, mostly at the hands of Bahraini security forces, and hundreds more were wounded, according to human rights groups. Hundreds more were arrested and scores faced trials before a military court.

Washington has significant geopolitical interests in Bahrain. Key U.S. ally Saudi Arabia backs Bahrain, and the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet  is stationed in Bahrain. So it comes as no surprise that the U.S., after initially criticizing the monarchy for the crackdown, has resumed military aid to a nation that the watchdog group Freedom House describes as “Not free.”

Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman have criticized Freedom House for excessively criticizing states opposed to US interests while being unduly sympathetic to regimes supportive of US interests. Eg, Craig Murray, the British ambassador to Uzbekistan from 2002 to 2004, wrote that the executive director of Freedom House told him in 2003 that the group decided to back off from its efforts to spotlight human rights abuses in Uzbekistan, because some Republican board members (in Murray’s words) “expressed concern that Freedom House was failing to keep in sight the need to promote freedom in the widest sense, by giving full support to U.S. and coalition forces”. Human rights abuses in Uzbekistan at the time included treatment of prisoners who were killed by “immersion in boiling liquid,” and by strapping on a gas mask and blocking the filters, Murray reported.

Apparently, not even pro-establishment, United States government-subsidized Freedom House succeeds in labeling unfree Bahrain ‘free’. They had to leave that ‘honour’ to Rupert Murdoch and various far right ‘think tank’ sycophants of the Bahraini absolute monarchy.

“The Obama Administration’s  decision to lift the hold on military assistance to Bahrain cannot be attributed to improvements in political rights or civil liberties in Bahrain because no such improvements exist,” Mark P. Lagon, president  of Freedom House, said this summer in a statement. “Thousands of Bahrainis remain imprisoned  for voicing opposition to the government, and reports of torture are widespread. If anything, punishment and discrimination for ordinary Bahrainis is deepening.  As a result of its latest decision, the United States has stepped away from trying to improve respect there for fundamental human rights.”

3. Emomali Rahmon — president of Tajikistan

Under Rahmon, Tajikistan’s human rights abuses have grown. He has cracked down hard on political opponents as well as independent media. His security forces routinely use torture to obtain confessions, according to Human Rights Watch. They have also targeted lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people, and cracked down on religious freedoms. Freedom House describes the country as “Not free.” Last month, the group said that a banning of an opposition by Rahmon’s government confirms that the country is now a “dictatorship.”

Rahmon, in a 2010 U.S. diplomatic cable leaked by Wikileaks, was described, along with his family, as playing “hardball to protect their business interests, no matter the cost to the economy writ large.” It described a culture of “cronyism and corruption” plaguing the country. The United States, though, considers Rahman as vital to American interests in Afghanistan and preventing Islamic militancy and opium smuggling from spreading into Central Asia.

In late August, Gen. Lloyd Austin III, head of U.S. Central Command, visited Rahmon in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, to discuss bilateral cooperation in counterterrorism and to fight the drug trade.

[4.] Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov — president of Turkmenistan

Berdymukhamedov, who came to power in 2006, presides over one of the world’s most repressive nations. Virtually every basic right — from freedom of expression to media to religion — is denied. Berdymukhamedov and his relatives control all aspects of public life. According to Human Rights Watch, relatives of people jailed during  waves of mass arrests in the late 1990s and early 2000s still do not have any information about their fates.

Berdymukhamedov, though, has allowed U.S. military aircraft en route to Afghanistan to fly through his country’s air space. Also attractive to U.S. interests in the region is Turkmenistan’s vast gas reserves — the largest in Central Asia. He has discussed strengthening energy relationships with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Washington views Turkmenistan as a vital piece of its goal to bolster Afghanistan’s economy by creating a new “Silk Road” — investment projects and regional trade blocs that would bring economic growth and stability to Central Asia. Chief among the projects is a long-proposed gas pipeline that would flow from Turkmenistan to Pakistan and India via Afghanistan.

This year, Freedom House named Turkmenistan one of its 10 “worst of the worst” nations in terms of democracy, human rights and other basic freedoms. The list includes North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, Central African Republic — and Uzbekistan and Equatorial Guinea.

[5.] Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo — president of Equatorial Guinea

Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, president of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea, and wife Constancia Mangue De Obiang arrive for a dinner hosted by President Obama for the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit on Aug. 5, 2014. (Photo: Susan Walsh/AP)

He’s Africa’s longest-reigning autocrat, in power since 1979. Oil-rich Equatorial Guinea is one of the most corrupt nations in the world. Obiang and his family own luxury properties around the world, drive expensive cars and fly in a private jet, as the vast majority of his people live in dire poverty, and one fifth of children die before age 5.

There is virtually no freedom of the press, no political opposition. Allegations of torture of political prisoners abound. Washington has long sought to keep strong ties with Obiang because of Equatorial Guinea’s oil reserves, seen as a way to lessen dependence on Middle East crude. U.S. oil companies are one of Equatorial Guinea’s largest investors, playing a lead role in oil and gas exploration and extraction. Last year, during the U.S.-Africa leaders summit, President Obama posed for a photo with Obiang and his wife, who were his guests at a White House dinner. The magazine Mother Jones at the time labeled Obiang one of Obama’s “5 most atrocious dinner guests.”

Sudarsan Raghavan has been The Post‘s Kabul bureau chief since 2014. He was previously based in Nairobi and Baghdad for the Post.

King of Bahrain sends his torturing sons to Yemen war

This video from England says about itself:

Solicitor Sue Willman on case against Bahrain prince accused of torture

Sue Willman from Deighton Pierce Glynn Solicitors speaking at “Forced Disappearance and Torture in the UAE” on 5 November 2014 in London.

I rarely quote from Al Arabiya TV, which is full of propaganda for the absolute monarchy of Saudi Arabia.

However, today is an exception. So, from Al Arabiya:

Bahrain’s King: My sons will be sent to help coalition forces in Yemen

Monday, 7 September 2015

Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa announced late on Sunday that his sons, Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad and Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad, will soon be joining Saudi-led coalition operations in Yemen, according to a report carried by pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat.

Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad is widely known as ‘the torture prince‘ for his cruelty against Bahraini sports people and other civilian prisoners, as part of the regime’s efforts to drown pro-democracy aspirations of the Bahraini people in blood.

Among several other torturing Bahraini royals is the other torture prince now reportedly going to the Yemen war, Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad.

“My sons will be joining their brothers in the Arab coalition forces in Yemen as part of their national military duties,” Bahrain’s King reportedly said.

The announcement of Bahraini royalty joining forces in Yemen came after five Bahraini, ten Saudi and 45 UAE troops were killed by Houthi militias during operations in Yemen last week.

If the two Bahraini princes really will go off to the bloody war in Yemen, if the report is not just propaganda, then that will mean, for the moment, two torturers less in Bahrain.

However, chances of Yemeni prisoners of war and civilian prisoners being tortured will go up.

Very probably, the Bahraini princes will not go to the dangerous areas of the military front lines. Their chances of dying will be considerably less than those of the United Arab Emirates conscripts, sent to Yemen by the UAE regime as cannon fodder against their and their families wishes.

Bahraini security forces have arrested 10 children under 18 over the past two weeks and they are now in custody instead of their classrooms, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) was quoted by the Arabic-language Al-Ahed news website as saying on Monday. The new school year in Bahrain started on Sunday as more than 240 schoolchildren are deprived of education because of their detention by the ruling Al Khalifa regime, the human rights body said: here.

As longtime legislators who believe in the promotion of human rights and dignity, we are deeply disappointed by the U.S. State Department’s recent decision to resume arms sales to Bahrain. U.S. arms sales should never aid and abet the repression of peaceful protesters, and we are introducing legislation to roll back this misguided decision: here.

U.S.-made cluster munitions causing civilian deaths in Yemen: here.

21 September 2015. On Sunday, a Saudi-led coalition air strike ripped through a market in Sanaa, Yemen, killing 69 civilians and injuring dozens of others. People had been out shopping for Eid al-Adha, the annual Muslim Feast of Sacrifice, when the bombs fell. Photos posted on social media show corpses strewn amidst the rubble in the aftermath of the assault: here.

Free Bahraini political prisoner Abduljalil al-Singace

This video from England says about itself:

#SingaceHungerStrike – NGOs protest ongoing detention of Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace in Bahrain

On Wednesday, 29 July 2015, the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), English PEN and Index on Censorship gathered outside the Bahrain Embassy in London to protest the ongoing detention of Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace.

Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace is a prominent academic and blogger who promoted human rights in Bahrain throughout the years 2000. After participating in peaceful protests, he was tried by a military court in June 2011 and sentenced to life in prison for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government.


Dr Abduljalil al-Singace hunger strike hits 160 days, 41 NGOs call for immediate release

28 August 2015

Bahraini prisoner of conscience Dr Abduljalil al-Singace today hits a milestone 160 days of hunger strike as rights organisations appeal for his freedom. Forty-one international NGOs today released an urgent appeal addressed to the Government of Bahrain to release the hunger striker.

Dr Abduljalil al-Singace is a prisoner of conscience and a member of the Bahrain 13, a group of activists arrested by the Bahraini government for their role in peaceful protests in 2011. Dr al-Singace is a blogger, academic, and former Head of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Bahrain. Dr al-Singace is currently serving a life sentence ordered by a military court on 22 June 2011.

The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry met with Dr al-Singace in 2011 and collected testimony regarding his arbitrary arrest and torture. Despite the existence of this testimony, in 2012 a civilian appeals court refused to investigate Dr al-Singace’s credible allegations of abuse and upheld the military court’s decision. Dr al-Singace has received no compensation for the acts of torture that he suffered, nor have his torturers been held accountable for their actions.

On 21 March 2015, Dr al-Singace went on hunger strike in protest at the collective punishment and acts of torture that police inflicted upon prisoners following a riot in Jaw Prison earlier that month. Today, he passed 160 days of hunger strike.

Dr al-Singace suffers from post-polio syndrome and is disabled. In addition to the torture Dr al-Singace has suffered, his medical conditions have deteriorated considerably as a result of his incarceration. Prison and prison hospital authorities have denied him physiotherapy and surgery to his nose and ears. He is currently being held in solitary confinement in a windowless room in Al-Qalaa hospital.

We remind the Bahraini government of its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Bahrain acceded to in 2006. Under the ICCPR Bahrain must ensure that no individual is subjected to arbitrary detention (Article 9) and that everyone enjoys the right to freedom of expression (Article 19). We demand that the government release all individuals who are arbitrarily detained for exercising their right to free expression, whether through peaceful assembly, online blogging or other means. We also remind the Bahraini government of its obligations arising from the 1984 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), to which Bahrain is a state party. In 2015, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that arbitrary detention and torture are used systematically in the criminal justice system of Bahrain.

We, the undersigned NGOs, call on the Bahraini authorities to release Dr Abduljalil al-Singace and all prisoners of conscience in Bahrain.

We further call on the international community, and in particular EU member states and the United States, to demand release of Dr al-Singace.

Background Information

Dr al-Singace has been the target of judicial harassment since 2009, when he was arrested for the first time and charged with participating in a terror plot and inciting hatred on his blog, Al-Faseela, which was subsequently banned by Bahraini Internet Service Providers. Dr al-Singace had blogged prolifically and critically against governmental corruption in Bahrain. He was later pardoned by the King and released, although his blog remained banned in Bahrain.

In August 2010, police arrested Dr al-Singace on his return from London, where he had spoken at an event hosted by the House of Lords on Bahrain. A security official at the time claimed he had “abused the freedom of opinion and expression prevailing in the kingdom.” Following his arrest, Bahraini security forces subjected Dr al-Singace to acts of physical torture.

Dr al-Singace received a second royal pardon alongside other political prisoners in February 2011. He was rearrested weeks later in March following the imposition of a state of emergency and the intervention of the Peninsula Shield Force, an army jointly composed of the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries.

On 22 June 2011, a military court sentenced Dr al-Singace to life imprisonment. He is one of thirteen leading human rights and political activists arrested in the same period, subjected to torture, and sentenced in the same case, collectively known as the “Bahrain 13”. A civilian appeals court upheld the sentence on 22 May 2012. The “Bahrain 13” are serving their prison sentences in the Central Jau Prison. Among the “Bahrain 13”, Ebrahim Sharif, former leader of the secular political society Wa’ad, was released by royal pardon on 19 June 2015, but was rearrested weeks later on 11 July, following a speech in which he criticized the government. He currently faces charges of inciting hatred against the regime. On 9 July 2015, the EU Parliament passed an Urgent Resolution calling for the immediate and unconditional release of the “Bahrain 13” and other prisoners of conscience in Bahrain.

During his time in prison, authorities have consistently denied Dr al-Singace the regular medical treatment he requires for his post-polio syndrome, and have failed to provide him with the surgery he requires as a result of the physical torture to which he was subjected in 2011. Dr al-Singace has an infected ear, suffers from vertigo, and has difficulty breathing.

A combination of poor quality prison facilities, overcrowding, systematic torture and ill-treatment led to a riot in Jau Prison on 10 March 2015. Though a minority of prisoners participated in the riot, police collectively punished prisoners, subjecting many of them to torture. Authorities starved prisoners, arbitrarily beat them, and forced them to sleep in courtyards for days, until large tents were erected. Fifty-seven prisoners are currently on trial for allegedly instigating the riot.

In response to these violations, Dr al-Singace began a hunger strike on 21 March. It has now been 160 days since Dr al-Singace has eaten solid foods, and he has lost over 20 kilograms in weight. Dr al-Singace subsists on water, drinking over four litres daily, fizzy drinks for sugar, nutritional supplements, saline injections and yoghurt drink. His intake is monitored by hospital nurses.

Since the start of Dr al-Singace’s hunger strike, he has been transferred to Al-Qalaa Hospital for prisoners, where he has been kept in solitary confinement in a windowless room and has irregular contact with medical staff and family. Prison authorities prevented condolence visits to attend his nephew’s and mother-in-law’s funerals. Dr al-Singace should be immediately released, allowed to continue his work and given full access to appropriate medical treatment without condition.

Last Update 28 August


Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR)
Bahrain Human Rights Observatory
Bahrain Human Rights Society
Bahrain Institute of Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
Bahrain Press Association
Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
English Pen
Ethical Journalism Network
European – Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights (EBOHR)
European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR)
Front Line Defenders
Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR)
Index on Censorship
International Forum for Democracy and Human Rights (IFDHR)
Irish Pen
Khiam Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture (KRC)
Maharat Foundation
Mothers Legacy Project
No Peace Without Justice
PEN American Center
PEN Canada
Pen International
Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)
Rafto Foundation
Reporters Without Borders
Salam for Democracy and Human Rights
Sentinel Human Rights Defenders
Shia Rights Watch
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
The European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
Tunisia Initiative for Freedom of Expression
Wales PEN Cymru

From the Committee to Protect Journalists:

The Committee to Protect Journalists, along with 40 human rights and press freedom groups, is calling on Bahrain to release Abduljalil Alsingace. The imprisoned blogger began waging a partial hunger strike on March 21, 2015 in protest at the maltreatment of prisoners after a riot in Jaw prison earlier that month, according to a campaign set up by his supporters.

Bahraini human rights activist speaking

This video, recorded in Italy, says about itself:

When I saw courage: Maryam Al Khawaja at TEDxLecce

2 February 2014

By Maryam Al Khawaja from Bahrain, in the Providence Journal in Rhode Island state in the USA:

Maryam Al Khawaja: Fighting my country’s rights abuses

Aug. 24, 2015 at 2:01 AM

Last September, I was sitting in a Bahraini jail. I had been arrested for my advocacy of human rights, which, over the past seven years, has led me to the halls of Congress, the United Nations and around the world in an effort to publicize the abuses committed by the Bahraini government and other repressive regimes in the region.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., is one of the few U.S. leaders who wrote to the Bahraini government urging it to drop all the charges against me and to let me leave the country.

The government of Bahrain treats human rights defenders as criminals. In an attempt to silence the peaceful movement for democratic reform, the authorities harshly punish those of us who work to advance liberty, democracy and free expression with lengthy prison sentences and no due process. I was eventually released, but sentenced in absentia to a year in prison. I have been effectively exiled from my home. If I ever go back to Bahrain I could be sent straight to jail the moment I step foot off of the plane.

When Senator Whitehouse stood in my defense, it was an important statement of support and encouragement. I’d taught at Brown University in 2010 and still have close connections with the school. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., has also condemned government violence in Bahrain and has been outspoken about the need to protect peaceful protesters.

But there are many others in the U.S. government who simply don’t understand the situation in Bahrain. They focus mainly on Bahrain as a military ally, host of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, an ally against Iranian aggression, and falsely conclude that it is better for U.S. interests to avoid criticizing the regime for its awful human rights record. In June, the State Department decided to lift the ban on arms sales to Bahrain’s military that it had imposed in 2011, citing “meaningful progress on human rights reforms” that remain unseen. Reforms promised by the Bahraini government have yet to materialize, the jails are full of political prisoners and reports of torture in custody are rampant.

Bahrain, the smallest country in Middle East, had the largest pro-democracy demonstrations of all the Arab countries in early 2011. However, while Egypt removed its dictator, President Hosni Mubarak, and Tunisia managed to achieve a fledgling democracy, the Bahraini regime violently suppressed peaceful calls for change and continues to do so.

Human Rights First and other U.S.-based organizations have been documenting abuses by the Bahraini regime for several years. In a country ruled by a family where the king’s uncle has served as the un-elected prime minister for 43 years, the State Department is clearly wrong to claim there has been meaningful progress, and Congress is right to challenge the lifting of the ban.

Last week Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., introduced legislation to ban the sale of tear gas, small weapons, ammunition, Humvees and other things that might be used against protesters until all the recommendations on reform made to the Bahraini government by international lawyers at the end of 2011 are fully implemented.

This is a smart move and an important opportunity for Senators Whitehouse and Reed to engage on a larger scale on human rights issues in Bahrain. By signing onto the bill, S.2009, they can help to persuade the government of Bahrain to reform, while showing that the United States won’t reward human rights abuses with weapons. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., has said he will introduce similar legislation in the House of Representatives, which also gives Representatives Jim Langevin and David Cicilline, both Rhode Island Democrats, the chance to support this ban.

I know from my time in jail, and from years of documenting unfair trials, arbitrary arrests and torture in Bahrain, that the regime needs more than gentle encouragement to reform. There must be consequences for its criminal behavior, and Rhode Island’s members of Congress now have the chance to do something about it. I hope they will do the right thing and continue to stand up for Bahrainis’ achieving their rights.

Maryam Al Khawaja, a former Brown University teaching assistant, is co-director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights and a Bahraini human rights defender.