Bahraini Teachers Demonstrating

The education sector in Bahrain continues to pay a heavy price for its involvement in the popular protests which consumed the country for several weeks in February and March of this year. In the spotlight this week were the members of the Board of Directors of the Bahraini Teachers Association (BTA) who were to be brought in front of a civil court for participating in illegal gatherings and inciting teachers to go on strike.

The trial continues a policy of criminalisation of the teachers’ involvement in the spring demonstrations that called for democratic reforms. Earlier this year, the association’s President, Mahdi Abu Dheeb, and Vice-President, Jalila Al-Salman, were brutally arrested and interrogated and subsequently sentenced by a military court to ten and three years of imprisonment, respectively. Bahraini teachers, who participated massively in the February-March strikes, have suffered harsh repression, including mass dismissal, salary cuts, arbitrary detentions and, in some instances, torture. Teachers who were dismissed were replaced by unqualified volunteers loyal to the regime.

Students have not been spared by the repression. A joint report of several Bahrain-based independent human-rights groups, released two weeks ago, denounced the systematic and coordinated attacks on students by mercenary groups and the police during the spring unrest. The report also documents arbitrary arrests, raids and sacking of homes, and military court trials. Among some 447 students who were suspended or expelled, only those who agreed to sign oaths of loyalty to the ruling Al Khalifa family and the government were allowed to enrol for the new semester in September 2011.

The 23 November 2011 official report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry set up by the King to investigate human rights violations and foster peace and unity in the country, almost entirely ignores the abuses specifically targeted at teachers. This does not augur well nor for the future of the BTA board of directors - whose fate shall be known on 9 January 2012 -  nor for the reintegration of dismissed teachers. All this seems to confirm Education International (EI) and the Global Campaign for Education (GCE)’s fear of a durable decline in the quality of education in Bahrain.

(Photo © DR)