August 12, 2013

Maine native banned from Bahrain was a critic of king

Erin Kilbride accused the country of repressing protesters in an editorial before she was deported.

By J. Craig Anderson canderson@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Portland native Erin Kilbride wrote a scathing editorial criticizing Bahrain's king a month before she was ousted from the Persian Gulf nation, where she had been working as an English teacher and research assistant.

Kilbride, a 2008 Cheverus High School graduate whose budding career includes several stints at human rights organizations, was deported Saturday from Bahrain, where she had been living in the capital city, Manama. She reportedly was due to arrive later Saturday in the United States.

The government-controlled Bahrain News Agency reported Saturday that officials had revoked Kilbride's work visa for violating the country's labor laws "by working illegally as an unaccredited journalist while employed as a teacher."

The agency also accused Kilbride of supporting the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, although it provided no concrete evidence.

Kilbride's editorial criticizing the Bahraini leadership was posted July 8 on Muftah.org, a news and opinion website focused on the Middle East and North Africa, for which Kilbride is listed as co-editor for Yemen and the Persian Gulf states.

Her editorial accused Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of being hypocritical for expressing public support for the recent overthrow of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi while cracking down on political dissent within his own borders.

"Bahrain's own king has been at the helm of a two-and-a-half-year crackdown on protesters in the island nation, a movement led by Bahrain's majority Shiite population," she wrote. "The modus operandi in Bahrain has been less about affirming the 'aspirations of the people' than about silencing popular demands via imprisonment of activists and strict bans on rallies calling for political reforms and equal rights."

Bahrain is a constitutional monarchy headed by Al Khalifa and run in part by members of his extended family. The Al Khalifa government is made up primarily of Sunni Muslims, although the majority of Bahrain's citizens are Shiites.

The regime has been criticized by human rights organizations such as Amnesty International since 2011 for cracking down on demonstrations related to the Arab Spring uprising, including reports of various human rights violations and the use of torture.

"In his own country, Bahrain's king has tended to define 'stability' as militant repression of protesters," Kilbride wrote in her editorial. "At the height of the Bahraini uprising in 2011, almost 2,000 troops rolled in from the (Gulf Cooperation Council) Peninsula Shield Force, the military wing of the Gulf Cooperation Council, to quell hundreds of thousands of peaceful protesters in the name of 'safeguarding security and stability.'"

Muftah.org is hosted by an international organization called Muftah. Its stated mission is to promote positive political and social change in the Middle East and North Africa while fostering a better mutual understanding between that region and the rest of the world.

The group's slogan is: "Free and open debate from Morocco to Pakistan." The word "muftah" is Arabic for a key that opens doors.

Muftah's editors are located in the U.S., Britain, Canada and the Middle East, according to the group's website.

The Bahrain News Agency article said the government had received complaints about Kilbride's writings for Muftah, as well as on Twitter and a number of other websites.

The Bahraini government also accused Kilbride of supporting Hezbollah, although the primary evidence cited is a statement from her unnamed landlord in Manama saying Kilbride "had a (Hezbollah) flag along with other paraphernalia of the Lebanese terrorist organization in her residence."

Kilbride and members of her family in Portland could not be reached for comment Sunday. Efforts to reach Cheverus officials also were unsuccessful.

Her profile page on the professional-networking website LinkedIn appears to contradict the notion that she would support a terrorist group.

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