Bahrain's Bloody Thursday cleared the Pearl Roundabout but only inflamed popular anger. Five days later, over 100,000 Bahrainis (nearly 15 percent of the
indigenous population) took part in a march to honor the protestors who had been killed. As the protests escalated in size and intensity, King Hamad
offered modest concessions, but too modest and too late. By then, Bahrain's aroused majority would settle for nothing less than a purely constitutional
monarchy, and militants were calling for an end to the monarchy altogether. As protests escalated further in March 2011, the monarchy called upon the
Saudi-dominated Gulf Cooperation Council for assistance. In the early morning of March 17, 5,000 troops, backed up by tanks and helicopters, routed the
demonstrators who had returned to the Pearl Roundabout. More than a thousand were arrested, including several leaders of the Haq Movement, which had split
off from Wefaq in protest against the 2002 constitution and the latter's decision to participate in elections. Among the arrested Haq leaders were its
head, Hassan Mushaima, and a mild-mannered engineering professor and human rights activist, Abduljalil al-Singace.
The March 17 crackdown dealt a devastating blow to popular aspirations for democracy in Bahrain, and marked a descent into new depths of repression. There
followed a state of emergency, beatings of hospital patients, large-scale arrests of health workers, denial of medical care to the injured, new waves of
arrests of peaceful dissenters, economic retribution, censorship of newspapers and social media, and police brutality so rampant that the BBC dubbed the
country "an island of fear."
The above is the context in which Bahrain's highest appeal court confirmed on Monday the life sentences of seven Bahrainis accused of plotting against the
government, including Mushaima, al-Singace, and Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, co-founder of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (and a dual Danish citizen), who
staged a 110-day hunger strike after his arrest and torture in February of 2012.
The use of torture by Bahraini security services against detainees has been widespread and systematic, aimed at punishing, humiliating, and breaking the
spirit of the protest leaders. On May 19, 2012, Abduljalil al-Singace released a harrowing 22-page statement detailing his mistreatment. To summarize: In
the early morning of March 17, 2011, a group of masked men broke into his home, beat and blindfolded him, and took him forcibly to an unknown location
without a warrant for his arrest. There, AJ (as he is known to his Western friends), along with thirteen fellow Shiite activists, was beaten, interrogated,
and sexually abused while being held in a windowless 2-by-3 meter cell for roughly fifty days. During this period he was interrogated without legal
representation or knowledge of his alleged crime. While he was being tortured with electric shocks and deprivation of food, water, and sleep, his oldest
son was also imprisoned and interrogated. Partially paralyzed since birth, the elder al-Singace was denied basic health needs and forced to stand on his
one working leg for hours without his crutches. Repeatedly, the authorities refused to let him carry out his Shiite prayer rituals and threatened to rape
him, his daughters, and his wife. From my close personal knowledge of AJ (a modest and generous man who was a Draper Hills Summer Fellow at Stanford's
Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law), I have no doubt that his allegations are true.