Posted on Wednesday, April 27th, 2011
Bahrain’s Iranian-backed human rights leaders have links with terrorism
Wednesday, 27 April, 2011
*Editorial Special to Bahrain Independent. Liliane Khalil is a journalist who reports on political, social and human rights events in the Middle East and North Africa. While the information contained in this op-ed has been researched carefully and validated by Bahrain Independent staff, the views expressed within are those of the writer. You may find Liliane Khalil on Twitter @LilianeKhalil.
CAIRO – Reports from Manama last week indicate that former president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, will remain in jail pending further investigation into his ties with Iranian-backed terrorist groups and his incitement to violence against Bahrain’s government.
As previously reported in Bahrain Independent, Al-Khawaja and two other family members were taken into custody on Saturday, 9th April, and have since been detained. Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled Al-Khalifa released a report following the arrest stating, “He [Al-Khawaja] violently resisted arrest. International human rights groups sympathetic to the Al-Khawaja case indicated that the Mr Al-Khawaja was beaten prior to his imprisonment, without any revelation about his violent protest to being arrested.
This most recent arrest of the former head of BCHR and a founding member of the Iran-based Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain, is not Al-Khawaja’s first run-in with Bahrain security. In the 1990s, whilst Al-Khawaja was associated with the Islamic Front, the group carried out a series of bombings on civilian targets throughout Bahrain. At the same time the Islamic Front was conducting terrorism campaigns on Bahraini civilians, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja was the president of Bahrain Human Rights Organisation – a subsidiary of the Islamist terrorism group, Islamic Front. During the 90s, Al-Khawaja and his brother, Salah Al-Khawaja (who is a leading member of Iranian-funded Islamist organisation, Islamic Action Society), went on record as being loyal supporters of the late Iranian Supreme Leader, Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Khomeini and his followers supported an extremist version of Shi’a Islam which hoped to spread Islamic revolution throughout the world. Ayatollah Khomeini was quoted by Asghar Shirazi in his book The Constitution of Iran as saying in 1988, “Establishing the Islamic state world-wide belongs to the great goals of the revolution.” The formation of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights was another step in the Islamist goals of Al-Khawaja in Bahrain, which he has been attempting since the 1970s.
Despite the BCHR referring to itself as an organisation “for the protection of human rights and advancement of society,” it has been described in an independent study by Katja Niethammer of the Institute for International and Security Affairs, Europe’s largest Think Tank, as “the most radical opposition group currently found in Bahrain.” Dr Niethammer went on to say that the member-activists involved in the organisation have “chosen to operate as an NGO – although with political goals.” In another report compiled by Dr Niethammer which was published by the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies at European University Institute, Dr Niethammer describes the BCHR as a group which searches for radical fringes of the Shi’ite movements within Bahrain. She says it is not possible to draw a difference between members of BCHR and al-Wefaq National Islamic Society “since both have the same roots.” The most notable Islamist ideology behind al-Wefaq include calling for Islamic dress and veiling of women in Bahrain, along with segregated housing for South Asian nationals to be placed in separate neighbourhoods away from Bahraini families. Gulf News, headquartered in neighbouring Dubai, reported on 27 April, 2007, that Abdullah al-A’ali, a deputy in Bahrain’s parliament from al-Wefaq, introduced legislation that would effectively racially segregate expatriate labourers in Bahrain – moving them to compounds outside of areas populated by Bahraini’s. That legislation never made it past the lower house and was criticised by actual Bahraini human rights groups. Abudlhadi Al-Khawaja’s Bahrain Center for Human Rights never filed a report denouncing the proposed racial segregation law.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights has described its mission on its website as: promoting freedoms and basic rights, combating racial discrimination, dissemination of human rights culture and providing support for victims and the vulnerable. However, for years critics of the NGO have said that the main mission of BCHR is to divide both Shi’a and Sunni sects within the Kingdom. These allegations against BCHR are based on the centres history of organising demonstrations and riots which have historically turned violent. Information gathered by Abdel Aziz Abul, liberal former member of BCHR, exposes the two different rhetorics strategised by BCHR: Pro-democracy statements directed mainly to the media in the United States and Europe. On the other hand, the BCHR addresses Bahrain audiences in divisive sectarian terms. Abdel Aziz Abul renounced his membership with BCHR after Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja returned to Bahrain from a 24-year exile in Denmark and took over leadership of BCHR again.
Recently, since the arrest and detention of Mr Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja along with his brother and son-in-law, current president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, Nabeel Rajab, has taken to international media airwaves proclaiming the injustices and violence committed against Bahrain’s Shi’ite majority. With a professional media strategist, publicity team and booking agent; Nabeel Rajab has become a well-known face on Iran’s state-run PRESS TV, along with appearances on credible Western television channels such as AlJazeera English, CNN and Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman. Despite Mr Rajab’s ability to appeal to a Western audience, he represents the same organisation which maintains connections with extremist groups funded by Iranian intelligence. Recently, Rajab was implicated in fabricating images of deceased Bahraini’s (reported on by Reuter’s and the Huffington Post).
Perhaps most damaging to the reputation of Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab were WikiLeaks cables released in February 2011, which suggest a London-based human rights group denounced the “politicisation” of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and accused Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab of both being in the pay of the Iranian government. The leaked cable went on to note that the BCHR, which continues to maintain ties with the intransigent Iranian-backed Haq movement, has lost credibility during the past several months with inaccurate, sensationalist allegations against the Government of Bahrain security forces.
Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja’s long history of involvement in Iranian-backed terrorism first became international news when in 1981, the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain, in which Al-Khawaja was an active member, attempted a failed coup d’etat in Bahrain. The operation was organised and funded by Iranian intelligence with support of money, weapons, logistics and training in urban warfare. The ultimate goal of the 1981 coup was to assassinate the Al-Khalifa leadership in Bahrain in order to prompt an uprising of the Shi’ite majority and install an Islamic theocratic government. The attempt was foiled when a neighbouring emirate tipped off the Bahraini leadership. Usually in instances of failed coups in the Middle East, the perpetrators are executed. However, all 73 people arrested were sentenced to between seven years to life imprisonment. As part of 2001 political reforms, King Hamad provided amnesty to all 73 insurgents and released them from prison. In return, the majority of those involved returned to Islamist political activism.
Al-Khawaja was allowed back to Bahrain after exile in Denmark in the 1990s. In 2005, according to Dr Niethammer, Mr Al-Khawaja encouraged more radicalisation of the BCHR, giving a seminar in front of an audience at ‘Uruba Club in Manama to combat poverty in Bahrain’s Shi’ite community. During that speech, Mr Al-Khawaja, “called in no uncertain terms for the resignation of the prime minister, actually hinting that he should be rather watching the country’s affairs from outside the country.” This speech was understood by the authorities as an incitement of hatred. In fact, “the activist wanted to provoke a strong government reaction since he clearly and knowingly overstepped the boundaries of possible critique.” Dr Niethammer revealed in her paper for the EIU in Florence that, “virtually everyone judged his speech as a direct threat to the regime – including those sympathetic to his movement.” The next day Mr Al-Khawaja was arrested and the BCHR was dissolved. Al-Khawaja remained in detention for two months, whilst his supporters held daily protests and were successful in eliciting several urgent human rights violations notices from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. On the day of Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja’s trial he was sentenced to one year in prison, after which the same day King Hamad pardoned him and he was released. The BCHR remained unlicensed but continued to conduct its activities under the guise of human rights advocacy.
The AC Edwards & Associates Group, based in Australia, which provides geopolitical analysis, threat intelligence and security for international government delegations, corporations and executive travellers, has exposed the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights as an Islamist organisation which uses rhetoric to influence Western journalists and actual human rights observers such as HRW and Amnesty, whilst inside Bahrain the group is overtly politicised and divisive – creating sectarian animosity on a regular basis. Most recently, following the 14 February “Shabab” movement in Bahrain, AC Edwards & Associates have documented for their clients that: BCHR, al-Wafeq, the Coalition for a Republic (which is composed of the Haq, Wafa Movement and London-based Bahrain Islamic Freedom Movement) have mixed with Hezbollah elements with operatives trained in Iran and Lebanon. AC Edwards claims that according to their source on the ground in Bahrain, since 1985, the IRGC Quds Force have been training, arming and supplying Bahraini Hezbollah through weapons purchases from Islamist terrorist groups in Iraq. The United States has also provided intelligence to the Kingdom of Bahrain and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) that Iranian fingerprints are all over the recent violent uprising in Bahrain which has a solid goal of overthrowing the Al-Khalifa monarchy which has ruled Bahrain since the 16th century.
Now that the GCC Military Forces, led by Saudi Arabia, have made direct military interventions in Bahrain on behalf of the Bahraini royal family, the Iranian covert ambitions of turning the Gulf into Islamist theocratic states is hitting a roadblock. As was previously reported, U.S. Secretary of Defence Robert Gates met with Saudi leaders last week and reported that there is clear evidence that Iran and Iranian-backed terrorists are behind the violent demonstrations seen in Bahrain over the last few months.
Last Wednesday, daughter of detained Islamist activist, Maryam Al-Khawaja attended the U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Washington, D.C., representing herself as the Head of Foreign Relations for the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights. During her lecture at the forum, Ms Al-Khawaja accused Washington of being silent on the Bahraini governments crackdown on demonstrations in the Kingdom. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in the attendance at the forum when Ms Al-Khawaja said, “I was hoping that the United States would take a stronger stance on Bahrain. I’ve been trying to get the U.S. State Department to impose a ban on the sale of arms to GCC countries.” Ms Al-Khawaja also expressed consern over the destiny of her father and other family members presently detained. She alleged that her father and relatives were brutally beaten before being taken away by masked men she assumes work for the Bahrain regime.
At a gala dinner following the U.S.-Islamic World Forum on the same evening as MsAl-Khawaja’s remarks, Secretary Clinton commented on Bahrain during her speech, “As I have said before, the United States has specific relationships with countries in the region. We have a decades-long friendship with Bahrain that we expect to continue long into the future. But we have made clear that security alone cannot resolve the challenges facing them. Violence is not and cannot be the answer. A political process is – one that advances the rights and aspirations of all the citizens of Bahrain. And we have raised our concerns publicly and directly with Bahraini officials and we will continue to do so.”
In a late February interview with host of ABC’s “This Week with Christiane Amanpour,” Secretary Clinton was asked how she assesses the situation in Bahrain. Amanpour asked, “About Bahrain, how do you assess Bahrain right now? Is it stable?” Secretary Clinton responded, “We’ve been very clear from the beginning that we do not want to see any violence, we deplore it, we find it absolutely unacceptable. We very much want to see the human rights of the people protected, including: right to assemble, rights to express themselves and we want to see some reform. Bahrain has started on some reform, and we want to see them get back those reforms as soon as possible.” Amanpour then asked “What will the United States do, and will it hold Bahrain to a similar standard as Egypt?” Clinton responded, “We try to hold everyone to a similar standard, but we cannot dictate the outcomes. We cannot tell countries what to do.” Secretary Clinton went on to say that Americans, “favour democracy, freedom and progress can be made by human beings anywhere when the citizens are empowered and have governments that are responsive.” Always the stateswoman, Secretary Clinton remarked that the United States is well aware that so-called uprisings in the Arab World, including Bahrain, are being influenced by outside forces – and if not careful – the Arab Spring could get hijacked by those who have interests and agendas which counter progress.
Recently, Maryam Al-Khawaja, interviewed with Voice of America’s, Cecily Hilleary, in front of the Whitehouse in Washington D.C. The interviewer asked Maryam exactly what her group is asking for from the Bahrain government. Ms Al-Khawaja responded: “As a human rights activist, I’ve been here in Washington for about a month and have been having meetings with authorities here. My main consern has been that the U.S. administration take a stronger stand when it comes to the human rights violations and abuses that are taking place in Bahrain. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen that happen yet.” The Voice of America journalist then asked Maryam what is it specifically that she would like to see. Maryam responded, “I ask that there be a stronger statement that has more detail about the situation. Another thing is to put the Lee Amendment into order, and we haven’t seen that. ” (The “Lee Amendment” would require an immediate report on all arms, sales and transfers to the U.S. State Department. It was initially introduced to reduce the sale of U.S. weapons during the Iraq War). “We would like to put a ban on arms to the GCC countries who are using U.S.-made weapons against unarmed civilians.” VOA then gave Maryam the chance to say a message to President Obama. Maryam looked into the camera and delivered the following words: “President Obama, our children’s lives are as precious as yours. If your love your children then you should love ours, too. I would pray that you take a stand to see the children of Bahrain who were expecting you to help us a long time ago, but now feel helpless. I hope you will take a stand and say that human rights come before interests.”
Maryam Al-Khawaja is no stranger to the media, particularly Iran’s state-owned PRESS TV. In an interview via satellite from D.C. regarding Maryam’s sister, Zainab Al-Khawaja’s infamous hunger strike, Maryam was asked about Zainab’s week-long hunger strike. She responded to the anchor by saying, “My sister is coming into the third day of her hunger strike. She is quickly losing her energy and is unable to do any more interviews because she doesn’t have the energy for it.” The anchor asked Maryam why Zainab has taken on a hunger strike, in which Maryam responded, “In Bahrain what we’re seeing right now is people getting arrested, then they go missing, and sometimes they show up dead with torture marks on their bodies. As a human rights activist I’ve documented many cases in which people gave me very graphic detailed accounts about how they were tortured in prison.” Maryam goes on to say that she has no information about the status of her detained family members and does not know where they are being held. She said that when her sister Zainab went to a police station to enquire about the location of her father and husband, she was threatened with rape.
Previously Maryam Al-Khawaja has given statements that in Bahrain, the demographics are 70% Shi’ite majority, 20% Sunni Muslims, 1% Jews, Christians, Baha’i, Hindu and others. She alleges that despite the Shi’ite majority, the Shi’a are not allowed to work in high-ranking government positions and that the 15,000 strong Riot Police are primarily made up of tribal Sunni’s from Yemen, Jordan and Syria who are given quick naturalisation in order to change the majority Shi’a demographic. Maryam also says that the government has not made any reforms and that all of the promises have not been fulfilled.
At the time of this writing, the mysterious “Shabab” opposition of 14 February are not known to the Bahrain public. They are represented by groups of so-called human rights NGOs who demand reforms in the government, claim that there is systematic segregation of Shi’a who are only allowed to live in certain areas of Bahrain and that it is the government who are creating sectarian strife.
Maryam’s sister, Zainab Al-Khawaja, who made international headlines last week when she took to Twitter to announce that she would be going on hunger strike in support of her detained father, has made it clear in her blog posts from 2005 that the main goal of her family, and in turn the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, is to overthrow the Al-Khalifa royal family. In a blog posted on Monday, 28 November 2005, using the Blogspot.com moniker: dreamer83, Zainab wrote: “Day by day I am more convinced that no democracy is possible with this family in power. The Al-Khalifas MUST be overthrown. Whether its King Hamad Khalifa or the “educated” Salman, they are all representatives of a regime that does not respect the rights of the Bahraini citizens.” In another blog post from July 2006, Zainab displays a photograph of Hassan Nasrallah, Secretary General of the Iran-backed Lebanese terrorist organization, Hezbollah. The caption she wrote beside the photo of the terrorist leader reads: “GOD BLESS YOU NASRALLAH!” She has also posted tributes to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini with messages of respect.
What we have discovered in our research of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, is that the organisation finds its spiritual guidance from the Iranian “Jomhoriya Islamiya” and clearly desires to create an Islamist state in Bahrain. The group travels the world filing documents with legitimate human rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, in turn gaining international support for a cause which is suspect, if not completely defined by propaganda. There are indeed several reforms needed within the Kingdom of Bahrain, and there are legitimate conserns about abuses, detentions and crimes committed by Riot Police serving the Bahrain government. However, King Hamad has pledged reforms, many of which are already being enacted in the Kingdom. In an interview with His Majesty the King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa last week, the King said, “I shall not allow a stop in the reform process which I began when I took the reins of power, The door is open to all subjects that are in the interest of all the citizens of Bahrain.” The monarchy has insisted that they have offered to sit down with opposition groups to discuss reforms from the very beginning of the latest violent protests.
The Crown Prince, His Royal Highness Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa called the current conditions “critical” and a problem that “has escalated beyond all limits.” The Prince said last week, “We must reject violence, division and sectarianism and elevate the value of work, development and open, creative thinking.” Recently, the United Nations has called on the Bahrain government to show restraint and to avoid violence and detaining protesters. The Bahrain Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmed al-Khalifa responded to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon with a letter on 17 April which said protests against the monarchy have been “exacerbated by the active involvement of Hezbollah, a militia that operates freely in Lebanon outside any government control to conduct terrorist activities. Hezbollah’s “interference” includes military training of Bahraini citizens in Hezbollah camps and “inflammatory and inciting statements” by leaders of the group, he said in the letter. Previously, King Hamad has accused opposition leaders of colluding with Shi’ite-ruled Iran in “subversive designs” to overthrow the monarchy. Something which has been known throughout the region since the 1980 coup attempt.
The GCC and Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, Saad Hariri, have recently criticised Iran for interfering in the affairs of Bahrain and other Arab countries. On Monday, Bahrain ordered the Iranian ambassador, Hegat Rahmani, to leave the country by today. He is accused by Bahrain and Kuwait of having espionage ties and collecting information on the Kingdom of Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar.
In an ironic twist, one of the world’s most dangerous violators of human rights, Iran’s Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, sent his own letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, saying the Iranian regime was conserned about an “apartheid” taking place in Bahrain against the Shi’ite majority. In August, 2010, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination filed a special report in which Article 16 declares Iran illegal in its policy of the application of “gozinesh” criterion. Gozinesh is a Farsi term meaning a selection procedure that requires prospective state officials or government workers to demonstrate allegiance to the Islamic Republic of Iran and the religion of the employee may prohibit them from working for the State. This discriminatory law applies not only to religions, but also to races affecting persons from Iran’s Jewish, Baha’i, Arab, Azeri, Balochi, Armenian and Kurdish communities.
To redress disinformation and propaganda of the Bahrain narrative propagated in Western media by members of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, the Al-Khawaja family and Mr Nabeel Rajab; a delegation of private Bahraini citizens will be touring Europe and the United States to visit with Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and various major media organisations. Their aim is to present factual documentation on the BCHR/Al-Khawaja connection to Iranian terrorist organisations as well as providing their own witness testimonies. The private delegation is made up of Bahraini members of society who are from Shi’a, Sunni, Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Baha’i communities. They are funded by private donations and their own independent wealth. The group stresses that they are not financed or sponsored by the Bahrain government or any organisation, and will provide documentation and proof of their expenses for travel and the methods of which these expenses are covered.
In addition to visiting media and human rights organisations, the delegation will also present their documents and live witness testimonies before the United Nations.