CHARLOTTEDecember 18, 2013 – There was a time, and not so very long ago, when the island nation of Bahrain was a haven for people seeking to escape the strict Sharia environment of Saudi Arabia.
Thursdays and Fridays, the Islamic equivalent of a Saturday/Sunday weekend in the West, always found the ten mile causeway connecting Bahrain with northeastern Saudi Arabia jammed with cars despite the seven checkpoints and multiple inspections required to go from one country to another. The reasons were simple; open bars, prostitution, a relative sense of freedom and, for Western expatriates, there was even access to pork and bacon.
Luxury hotels were filled with Saudis dressed in Western-style clothing who could not wait to escape the suffocating lifestyle they were forced to endure at home. It was commonplace for Western contractors working in Saudi to live in Bahrain and tolerate the causeway traffics jams, even during the week, just to have some semblance of independence.
No more. Bahrain’s security forces appear to have intensified a crackdown on anti-government protestors to such a degree that they are now targeting children. The surge in authoritarian control serves to highlight how quickly a once comparatively liberated Arab country can easily return to its roots and the ideologies of its neighbors.
Back in the day, expatriates marveled at how “different” Bahrain was from Saudi Arabia. They were always impressed by the fact that immigration officials smiled and seemed so much happier than their mainland counterparts.
Western contractors would frequently attempt to find clever ways to smuggle pork across the border. It was never a problem getting pork products out of Bahrain, but it often became another matter a few hundred yards away when visitors tried to re-enter Saudi. Sometimes they succeeded, but many times they did not, and the meat was often used as makeshift soccer ball before being thrown in the trash.
Now, according to a briefing published by Amnesty International and reported by The Clarion Project, children as young as 13 who have participated in demonstrations are being targeted. Kids are routinely jailed, abused, tortured and threatened with rape. Many of the children are blindfolded before being beaten and tortured during their detention.
The new philosophy in Bahrain has been in force for nearly three years since the country’s security forces took excessive measures to crush protests against the government.
The uprisings began in Bahrain in February of 2011. The government retaliated by killing dozens and arresting thousands more.
According to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, torture or any form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of children is prohibited. The U.N. defines a child as anyone under the age of 18. Bahrain has long been a signatory to the agreement dating before the days when the government crackdown began.
The Amnesty International report states, “Most children have been arrested on suspicion of participating in ‘illegal gatherings,’ rioting, burning tires or throwing Molotov cocktails at police. Many were seized during raids while they were playing at home and even at a local swimming pool. Several were denied access to their families for extended periods and interrogated without their lawyers.”
Most youngsters under the age of 15 are being held at a juvenile center during the day. Social workers care for the children in daylight hours, but the young people are turned over to Bahraini police atnight and that is when most of the abuses occur.
Geographically visitors to Bahrain would never think of it as a place of military force. The clear blue waters surrounding the island could easily be mistaken for a destination in the Bahamas, the Caymans or even Florida’s Keys. Take away the traditional Arab dress and put Bahrainis in Western clothing and the previous attitudes among the people seems light years away from those of Saudi Arabia just across the gulf.
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe. Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com).
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