Bahrain opposition fears crackdown 'whitewash' amid British royal visit

Bahrain opposition fears crackdown 'whitewash' amid British royal visit
Ebrahim Sharif of the secular Waad Party hoped that the Prince of Wales brought up human rights issues with Bahrain’s leaders as the British royal ended a visit on Friday.
2 min read
11 November, 2016
Prince Charles has been kept away from the Bahrain's trouble areas [Getty]
A leader in Bahrain's secular opposition warned that the British royal visit to the island could "whitewash" an ongoing crackdown on dissent as Prince Charles and his wife Camilla began wrapping up their trip on Friday.

Ebrahim Sharif of the Waad Party, who himself has been detained by the island's Sunni rulers, said he hoped the Prince of Wales brought up human rights issues behind closed doors with leaders here.

"The government may listen," he told AP, "They need friends."

Sharif said Bahrain's opposition was both "flexible and realistic," wanting only power-sharing with the country's monarchy. However, he said those demands had been greeted with travel bans and other harassment.

He warned Bahrain's financial crisis, worsening as the price of oil remains low, could push things further into danger here.

"Without reform, we are in a very bad situation," he said.

On their visit, Prince Charles and Camilla have been kept far away from the island's trouble areas.

However, they visited the British Embassy on Thursday night, where black Shia flags were visible as those inside enjoyed drinks and hors d'oeuvres.

Bahrain, a small island off the coast of the Arabian Peninsula, put down Arab Spring protests in 2011 with the help of Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

The protests were backed by the Shia majority and others, and were aimed at demanding more political freedoms from the ruling Al Khalifa family.

While low-level unrest persisted for years, things remained largely peaceful until April, when Bahrain's military announced it was "ready to deal firmly and with determination with these sedition groups and their heads" after a gasoline bomb killed a police officer.

Since then, authorities suspended the country's largest Shia opposition group, al-Wefaq, and doubled a prison sentence for its secretary-general, Sheikh Ali Salman.

Famed activist Nabeel Rajab was imprisoned and now awaits sentencing on a charge of spreading "false news." 

Zainab al-Khawaja, the daughter of well-known activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who himself is serving a life sentence over his role in the 2011 protests, was forced into exile.

Meanwhile, the country's security forces have besieged a small town home to a Shia cleric who had his citizenship stripped by the government earlier this year.