11/26/2013 11:05 am ET Updated Jan 26, 2014

Reality Exposes Bahrain Government Claims

Repeated claims by the Bahrain government that it is on the path to reform and stability don't match the reality of a regime that is taking increasingly repressive measures, including new targeting of human rights defenders.

Frustrated at the lack of accountability for deaths, torture and other abuses over the last few years, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights has published a series of names with allegations of human rights violations and asking that those named respond to evidence against them in fair trial. Over 50 individuals were named during the past few weeks, including the king and other senior members of the ruling family.

On Saturday, NGOs friendly to the Bahrain government published a list accusing 18 human rights activists -- some of whom were part of the BCHR campaign, most of whom were not -- of a series of crimes, including "exploiting children and arming them with Molotov cocktails, disseminating a culture of hatred, xenophobia and fake martyrdom and opposing women's rights." The attacks were featured prominently in local media, enhancing the intimidation of prominent figures in Bahrain civil society, and making it even more difficult for Bahrain to resolve its worsening crisis. These accused activists were warned that "Posters featuring [them] and the violations they perpetrated have been distributed among international organizations and posted on social websites."

When one of those named, Hussain Jawad -- Chairman of the European-Bahraini Organization for Human Rights, went to file a complaint of defamation at his local Isa Town police station the next day, he was arrested. He is now being held in custody for 15 days while he is investigated by the public prosecutor. Others named include Maryam al Khawaja and Said Yousif of the BCHR, medics Nada Dhaif and Rula Al Saffar, and Mohammed Al Maskati of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights.

The targeting of these individuals and Jawad's arrest, taken with recent charges brought against senior opposition figures Khalil al Marzooq and Ali Salman, reveal a reality opposite to the Bahrain government's official statements. While the Bahrain cabinet claimed this week that "19 of 26 recommendations issued by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry had been fully implemented," this simply isn't true, nor are claims that the Bahraini government is addressing impunity and restoring stability.

One of those named, Jalila al Salman, Vice President of the Bahrain Teachers Association (BTA) was tortured into making a false confession and convicted in a military court in 2011 with Mahdi Abu Deeb, President of the BTA, on politically-motivated charges. Their final appeal was heard at the Court of Cassation this morning. It was rejected. While al Salman has served her jail sentence, Abu Deeb has two years and five months left to go.

As Secretary Hagel travels to Bahrain in two weeks for a security conference, he would be making a strategic error if he fails to publicly mention the crackdown on HRDs and the deteriorating security situation in Bahrain. While directed primarily at Bahraini citizens, this crackdown threatens the environment for the Fifth Fleet and other U.S. too -- Washington cannot afford to watch, witness, and stand silent."