The Real Bahrain

The Real Bahrain - WSJ.com

In 2005, The Wall Street Journal carried a front-page news story about Ali Abdulemam, a young blogger in Bahrain, the island nation off Saudi Arabia's coast that hosts the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet. The article reported that Mr. Abdulemam's blog mixed "irreverent politics and reverent Islam," and that Mr. Abdulemam had, several years earlier, stopped using a pseudonym. This was remarkable since Bahrain's Sunni-led government has historically used arbitrary detention, torture and other tactics to stifle calls for political equality by Bahrain's majority-Shia population. Mr. Abdulemam's decision to post openly came after King Hamad, who assumed power in 1999, had instituted reforms that included holding elections for an advisory parliament and ending torture.

It would be telling—but impossible—to ask Mr. Abdulemam if he now regrets discarding the pseudonym. On Sept. 4, Bahrain's National Security Apparatus called him to appear for questioning. After making a Facebook post about the call and attempting to contact a lawyer, Mr. Abdulemam left for the Apparatus's headquarters. He did not return.

The next Mr. Abdulemam's family heard of him was from a government news agency's story, reporting that prosecutors were questioning Mr. Abdulemam in a "terrorist network" investigation. Mr. Abdulemam, the account continued, had been "diffusing fabricated and malicious news on Bahrain" and receiving funding from a London-based "terror mastermind."

In retrospect, events during the last weeks of August foretold Mr. Abdulemam's arrest. On Aug. 13, authorities detained longtime opposition figure Abdul-Jalil Singace after he returned to Bahrain from a House of Lords event in London. Shortly after, 20 additional "terrorist network" figures were arrested, including well-known activists, Shia clerics, and a dentist. A charge sheet without reference to any purported facts accused them of "organizing. . . to overthrow and change the political system of the country," and of "working with international organizations."

Also do read this Economist piece on Bahrain.