The protest rally, marking the "International Day in Support of Victims of Torture" that I mentioned on Tuesday went ahead today as planned. I was pleased to see that the event was well organized and peaceful. The people gathered represented all sections of Bahraini society (except those who are still trying to defend the accused torturers). One of the interesting things to see was the turnout of women. On one side of the road were all of the women dressed in the traditional black abayas:
And on the other side of the road were a bunch of young girls representing the secular NDA, dressed in their jeans and designer sunglasses:
The only people missing was anyone representing the large expat community as usual (I think I was the only expat there). For some reason the expat societies don't seem to care about local affairs, and neither do the Bahraini civil societies seem to care about involving the expats in local affairs. I'd like to see this change.
But the point of the rally was concise, without letting other issues get involved, as usually happens. The focus of the rally was to demand that the government acknowledge the torture that took place in the past, and to bring those torturers to justice. According to a flyer that was handed out, the demands of the societies who were sponsoring the rally were:
- Recognition of all those who have unlawfully [been] killed as national martyrs and provide fair compensation to their families.
- Fair compensation for all victims of torture as well as rehabilitation for those who are still suffering from torture.
- Bringing all those who have committed acts of murder or torture to justice in accordance with the international standards; and repeal Royal Decree 56-2002, that protects torturers and grants them immunity from prosecution.
One person carried a sign stating:"Public blood is more valuable than public money", which was an obvious reference to the fact that Adel Flaifel has been charged by the Bahraini courts with mishandling public funds, but has not been charged with any of the crimes of torture that the opposition accuses him of. (Flaifel was at one time one of the high ranking personnel in Bahrain's former security apparatus. He fled to Australia at some point during the political reforms in the country).
Thankfully, the protest was not dominated by the Islamists as I feared, or any particular political society. There were a few people in their turbans and robes, but they were not trying to take centre-stage at all. The only thing was that the were playing music that was similar to the music they play during the 'Azza (a Shia' religious ceremony). But then again, over the years in Bahrain the 'Azza demonstrations have taken on a meaning that is certainly more than just religious, no?
All in all, a good protest with a well made point. Many passers by stopped to take notice of what was going on. And it was great to see so many teenagers and youths getting involved also, teaching them that demanding their rights from the government is not only their right, but their responsibility. While the government still has a lot to do to correct its former mistakes, the mere fact that protests of this kind can now take place shows that things have changed, and there's no going back.
You can see more of my photos from the protest in my Yahoo album.
You can read AFP's account of the event here.