Bahrain is a country with a PR problem. No country that brutally crushes protests, rounding up and detaining opposition leaders, medical workers, teachers, journalists and students, is going to look great in the eyes of the world.
So, how did Bahrain think the world will react to its latest step, the prosecution of, wait for it, an 11-year-old boy?
As the Guardian reports Ali Hassan, appeared before a Juvenile Court yesterday charged with “illegal gathering” and “disturbing security”. Amnesty is calling for the charges against him to be dropped.
Ali Hassan was arrested on 13 May in a street close to his home and near to where a protest was taking place. According to his lawyer, he was playing with two other young boys when police officers stopped the children, threatening to shoot them if they did not do as they were told. The two others managed to escape but Ali Hassan was immediately arrested, accused of purposefully blocking the street with large communal dustbins. Ali Hassan was not allowed to see a lawyer until just before his third appearance at a juvenile court on 6 June.
The important thing, of course, is what happens to Ali Hassan – who told his lawyer that he only confessed because he became hungry and tired during his initial interrogation and because police promised to release him if he did – but could Bahrain’s PR problem eventually lead to change?
The Bahraini authorities have been more concerned with re-building their image and investing in public relations than with actually introducing real human rights and political reforms in their country. They hoped that by hosting the Formula 1 Grand Prix in April, after the event was cancelled last year in response to the instability in the country, would demonstrate a return to normality. But this backfired, as my colleague Niluccio noted at the time.
Coverage of the Grand Prix only served to ensure that even more eyes were on Bahrain and to make sure human rights concerns raised by Amnesty and others were a big part of the story.
Will this latest crop of headlines finally convince this image-conscious government that the only sure way to address their PR problem is to address the issues at its heart, beginning by releasing all prisoners of conscience, independently investigating allegations of torture, deaths in custody and unlawful killings and holding those responsible for abuses to account.
I won’t hold my breath but let’s hope so.
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