Sayed Ahmed AlWadaei, the director of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), lives in exile in the UK along with his wife Duaa. AlWadaei is an outspoken critic of the island kingdom – he says the latest trial is meant to silence his criticism.
“Their escalation against both of my family members was no coincidence,” AlWadaei said. “My wife was beaten, mistreated and threatened that they are going after our family to punish me. Now all their threats were executed.”
The majority-Shia Bahrain is ruled by the Sunni Al-Khalifa family, a close ally of Saudi Arabia, the US and the UK. Most of Bahrain’s opposition comes from the Shia majority, which has been subject to a harsh crackdown following the eruption of mass protests in 2011.
Bahraini officials accuse the opposition of close links to Iran, a charge both opponents and the Islamic Republic deny. Deadly clashes between protesters and security forces have been ongoing since the 2011 demonstrations.
Duaa, Alwadaei’s wife, last left Bahrain during a brief visit in 2016 with her son. She was reportedly detained and interrogated when leaving her native country.
Duaa accused Bahraini police of physical abuse during her questioning – charges the authorities deny. On Wednesday, she was charged with insulting state institutions and sentenced in absentia to jail.
“We saw the report that a Bahraini criminal court sentenced her [Duaa AlWadaei] in absentia to … two months in prison for allegedly insulting a state institution. Really?”, said Heather Nauert, US State Department spokeswoman.
“We strongly urge the government to abide by its international obligations and commitments to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, and that includes the freedom of expression,” Nauert added.
The US’ Fifth Fleet, which is the naval headquarters for patrolling the Middle East and Central Asia, is based in Bahrain.
On Tuesday, Duaa’s mother Hajer Mansoor Hassan began a hunger strike to protest against restrictions on her privacy. She was moved to an Interior Ministry hospital two days later.
Hassan was sentenced to three years in jail in October. She allegedly planted a “fake bomb” meant to taunt police – a charge she denies.