Bahrain is one country that was forgotten by many as the Arab Spring of 2011 concluded. It is however a country with an unsettled outlook. Some protests have taken place but the Bahraini regime quashed any hopes of an organized uprising with a security crackdown in February 2011. They have achieved this in part by spying on Bahraini citizens online using British spy software and malware.
British made equipment monitors Skype conversations, tracks emails and observes social networking activity of those opposing the regime, claimed activists in court this week. Russia Today reports:
UK spy technology was used against a British citizen in Bahrain, new evidence filed in a UK high court has claimed. Activists are calling for a judicial review of the UK’s failure to hold firms accountable for sales of spy software to repressive regimes.
The evidence submitted contains a witness statement from Bahraini activist and writer Ala'a Shehabi, 30. She has both Bahraini and British citizenship, and is one of the founding members of Bahrain Watch, an independent research and advocacy organization set up in 2011.
RT describes the equipment used as:
FinSpy software reportedly allows for surveillance of emails, social media messaging and Skype calls, and can retrieve files saved on an infected computer's hard drive. It also can remotely operate microphones and cameras on computers and mobile phones.
Reports that the same spy software has allegedly been sold to around another 25 governments is an obvious cause for concern.
Bahrain's civil unrest is rarely in the mainstream media but has shown no sign of abating.
In December 2011 Bahrain hired former UK assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, John Yates. Earlier in the year he had resigned from his job with the Met amidst the UK phone hacking scandal. His appointment in Bahrain followed an independent report on human rights breaches in that country.
Yates was supposedly hired to reform the Bahrain police force; along with John Timoney, a former head of Miami police, the pair were going to bring the force up to International Human Rights standards. The abuse involved use of excessive force, torture and summary justice. At least 20 police officers facing such allegations were going to stand trial but little has improved for ordinary Bahraini citizens.
Interestingly activists claim that the use of spyware dates back to the appointment of John Yates.
By February 2012 nothing much had changed for the better and violence flared ahead of the Arab Spring anniversary; it has persisted. Youths rioted, throwing petrol bombs and carrying iron bars. The police responded heavily using tear gas, with reports of tear gas thrown into the homes of rebels. The Bahrain authorities maintained the position that it was just thugs rioting.
In 2011 the UK supplied the Bahrain regime with weapons but the Ministry of Defence eventually revoked the licenses. It was of course too little and too late.
King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa rules the kingdom of Bahrain. His family has ruled the small Gulf Island state for more than 200 years. In 2012 he addressed the nation claiming that he remained committed to reforms launched ten years earlier. He dismissed claims by the "rebels" that these were nothing more than "token reforms"; cosmetic reforms with no real positive change.
There were violent protests on the streets of Bahrain during the 2013 Grand Prix in April. In early May, 31 anti-regime protesters were sentenced to 15 years behind bars after being convicted of attacking a police patrol in the village of Sitra.
May 17 six activists were each sentenced to one-year in prison for tweets which allegedly insulted the country's King; and on its goes, unchecked. The civil unrest and violence continues largely unchecked and unreported by the mainstream media.
Once again the question to ponder is when is a protester a rebel or insurgent and when is he or she part of the legitimate opposition? Thug or activist?
Western nations continue to decry humanitarian crises and repressive regimes, around the world but only when it suits. It is convenient for the West that the Bahraini rulers stay in power. The island is useful for the West as much of the Middle East remains in tatters.
With allegations that the USA and the UK are actively helping repress activists in Bahrain, and maintain the status quo, Western hypocrisy is shameful.
Our leaders play a dangerous game and it is time they admitted that they could not care less about human tragedy unless it is happening in a country which is strategically important.