Image: Anti-government demonstrators in Manama, Bahrain, on Feb. 19
John Moore  /  Getty Images, file
Anti-government demonstrators re-occupied iconic Pearl Roundabout in Manama, Bahrain, on February 19. Their demands for political freedoms and greater rights were inspired by uprisings elsewhere in the Middle East.
By
msnbc.com
updated 7/1/2011 5:57:32 AM ET 2011-07-01T09:57:32

Bahrainis living abroad have been ordered to spy on their countrymen in the wake of a deadly crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.

Documents containing "loyalty pledges" — which also require expats to promise they will not protest against the tiny Gulf state's government — have been sent to students attending university in the U.K.

Some Bahrainis told msnbc.com that they feel abandoned by Western leaders in the face of an alleged campaign of intimidation that extends far beyond the country's borders.

At least 31 people have been killed during anti-government unrest in Bahrain since February amid demands for political freedoms and greater rights.

More than 1,000 people remain detained. Dozens of doctors and nurses who helped protesters are among those facing trials in the kingdom, which is home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet.

Video: Violent crackdown on Bahrain protesters (on this page)

Bahrainis who receive funding to study abroad have been ordered to sign the pledges, which instruct expats to inform on fellow citizens.

"In the event that other students are not fulfilling their loyalty … it is my responsibility and duty to report them," one document obtained by msnbc.com reads.

Recipients of the memo also must vow not to compromise Bahrain's reputation "through the use of social media, public demonstrations or any other manner."

'Embracing tyrants'
Abdul, a student who is now based in the U.K., cited the pledges as an example of the kingdom's attempts to intimidate its citizens — even those living thousands of miles away from their homeland. He said many students feared that their scholarships will be axed if they don't comply.

Abdul, who asked that his real name not be used to protect family members who are still in Bahrain, said he is angry at the U.S. and Britain for not doing more to help his country's pro-democracy movement .

"We see them embracing tyrants," Abdul told msnbc.com. "They actually invite people from the Bahraini government to come and visit. In effect, we feel that even here we are not safe."

The families of some expats who were pictured at a pro-democracy protest in England were harassed, some Bahrainis alleged.

Story: Did Twitter, Facebook really build a revolution?

An estimated 5 percent of the kingdom's workforce has been fired or suspended for taking part in protests, according to the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights. The kingdom has a population of around 525,000.

Bahrain has long been a reliable Western ally in the Persian Gulf.

Many members of Bahrain's elite studied in the U.K. King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa attended the University of Cambridge and trained with the British army.

Wedding invitation
Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, who received degrees from Washington's American University and Cambridge, was on the guest list for Prince William's wedding to Catherine Middleton in April. He declined to attend but the fact he was invited despite the bloody crackdown sparked controversy in the U.K. The crown prince also met with President Barack Obama at the White House in June.

Hundreds of thousands of mostly Shiite Bahrainis took to the streets in February to demand an end the Sunni minority's hold on power. The country's Shiites, who make up around 70 percent of the population, complain of pervasive discrimination and say they are barred from top jobs in the government, army and police.

Centered on the iconic Pearl Roundabout in the capital Manama, the protests were initially peaceful.

But with the help of Saudi Arabia and other neighbors, the Sunni-led government later launched a crackdown. They used live rounds to quell demonstrations, demolished an encampment and rounded up opposition party members.

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On June 22, a special military court sentenced eight people to life in prison for allegedly trying to overthrow the government . Among them was Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, a prominent human-rights activist.

A lawyer told The Associated Press on Thursday that Bahrain had stopped putting protesters on trial before the tribunals with military prosecutors.

Human Rights Watch had previously called the trials a "travesty of justice."

"Most defendants hauled before Bahrain's special military court are facing blatantly political charges, and trials are unfair," said Joe Stork, the group's deputy Middle East director.

Reconciliation talks are scheduled to begin on Saturday.

'State of chaos'
The Associated Press reported Wednesday that King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa announced the creation of an independent commission that will investigate allegations that protesters' rights were violated during the crackdown.

The king said Bahrain is committed to reform and respecting human rights. But he accused the protesters of pushing the country into a "state of chaos" with street marches and sit-ins.

Video: Shocking video shows protester shot in Bahrain

Dr. Salah Al Bander, a former adviser to Bahrain's royal family who left the country in 2006 after exposing documents that opposition activists say show plans to systematically sideline Shiites, said Britain should leverage its long and close relationship with the Bahraini establishment to support the country's activists.

"Definitely Britain could do more, not only by putting pressure on the royal family, but by protecting students here,” said Al Bander, who is now in the U.K.

Image: David Cameron and Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa
Andy Rain  /  EPA, file
British Prime Minister David Cameron met with Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa in London in May.

Around 1,200 Saudi Arabian National Guard troops were deployed to Bahrain in March as part of an intervention by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). It later emerged that the security force had been trained by the British .

Video: Bahrain protesters clash with Saudi troops (on this page)

"In training the Saudi troops, we're protecting the Bahraini regime," said Jonathan Edwards, a British parliamentarian whose questions revealed details of the training program.

"It is very difficult to be portraying ourselves diplomatically as … promoting democracies and bringing down tyrannical regimes, and then be responsible for propping them up," added Edwards, a lawmaker with the Welsh nationalist Plaid Cymru party.

Britain is Saudi Arabia's second-largest foreign investor after the U.S., and Saudi Arabia is the U.K.'s biggest trading partner in the Middle East.

Gerd Nonneman, a professor of Gulf studies at Britain's University of Exeter, said the West was taken by surprise at the speed and severity of the Saudi-backed crackdown on largely peaceful protests.

The key to Saudi Arabia's involvement in Bahrain — a 16-mile causeway separates the two kingdoms — is concern that Shiite Iran will gain a foothold there, he said.

"(Saudi Arabia's fear) is more paranoia than factually based," Nonneman added.

The Saudi leadership appears to feel threatened by pro-democracy movements throughout the region, seeing them as an "an existential crisis," according to Charles Dunne, a former American diplomat who also worked with the National Security Council and Pentagon.

"That is a limiting factor in how much advice is taken (on Bahrain)," said Dunne, who is now a senior program manager at pro-democracy NGO Freedom House.

Some Bahrainis still wonder why the U.K. and U.S. haven't done to aid the country's pro-democracy movement following the violent crackdown that has left many dead, imprisoned or exiled.

Video: Bahrain crushes rebellion (on this page)

Ali, 28, said he fled his country in May after his boss at a bank was shown a picture of him at a protest. Within 10 minutes he was fired, he says.

"I felt that this was the end, that they were going to arrest me like they did with the other guys, that they would beat me until I was killed,” said Ali, who asked to be identified by his first name only to protect relatives in Bahrain. "I had to escape."

He traveled through the region for weeks before finally arriving in the U.K. in the beginning of June. Ali, who has been joined by his wife and three-year-old son, is applying for asylum in Britain.

Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth office is aware of "allegations about the Bahraini government's actions towards some Bahraini students studying in the United Kingdom," a spokeswoman told msnbc.com.

"Our ambassador in Bahrain raised the issue with the Bahraini minister of justice on May 4, saying it was wrong for students to be punished for exercising a right to peaceful demonstration," she said.

Bahrain's Embassy in London did not respond to numerous requests for comment. Staff at the foreign ministry in Bahrain would not comment and directed msnbc.com to the London Embassy.

© 2013 msnbc.com Reprints

Photos: March

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  1. Bahraini Shiites women attend the funeral of Bahiya al-Aradi, holding portraits of her, in central Manama on Monday, March 22. Aradi, 51, went missing on March 16 evening, and a car that she drove was found the day after in al-Qadam village, west of Manama, with bloodstains on the driver's seat. She was pronounced dead on March 21 after being shot in the head. (Joseph Eid / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Bahraini opposition protesters carry the body of Abdulrasool al-Hajiri during his burial ceremony in Buri village, north of the capital, Manama, on Monday, March 21. Relatives accused the military of executing al-Hajiri after grabbing him at a checkpoint outside the village. Meanwhile, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa praised Saudi-led forces that he called in to help quell unprecedented unrest. (Mazen Mahdi / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, right, meets with officers of the Gulf Cooperation Council's Peninsula Shield force late on March 20 in Manama. The monarch said Bahrain has foiled a "foreign plot" to target Gulf countries, in a possible reference to Iran, after security forces crushed Shiite-led unrest, the state news agency reported. (BNA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. An injured Pakistani man takes refuge at a Pakistan club in Manama on March 19. He said that he was attacked by Shiite Bahrainis in a Shiite neighborhood on March 19. According to Pakistani men, Shiites have been attacking Asian nationals, accusing them of taking away their jobs. (Joseph Eid / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Young women look at welts on the body of a young man walking through the streets of Daih, a Shiite suburb of Manama, on March 19. The youth said he was returning from nearby Sanabis, another Shiite area, where he said he and several others were beaten by riot police. (Hasan Jamali / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Bahraini soldiers with the portrait of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa on their armored personnel carrier are seen at a checkpoint near Pearl Square in Manama on March 19. (Sergey Ponomarev / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. The sisters of activist Ahmed Farhan mourn over his body in Sitra on March 18. Farhan, 29, was killed March 15 when police cracked down on opposition protesters in the town. (James Lawler Duggan / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. An unidentified man shows the bullet that was allegedly pulled from the head of killed opposition protester Ahmed Farhan before his burial on March 18. (Mazen Mahdi / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Shiite mourners wrap the body of Ahmed Farhan before his funeral in Sitra on March 18. (Joseph Eid / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Shiite mourners carry the coffin of Ahmed Farhan during his funeral in Sitra on March 18, as thousands of anti-regime activists defied martial law to renew their pro-democracy protests. (Joseph Eid / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A Shiite woman stands in front of the national flag as she watches the funeral procession of Ahmed Farhan on March 18. (Sergey Ponomarev / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A combination of pictures show the statue in the center of Pearl Square in Manama being torn down on March 18. The authorities demolished the statue, focal point and symbol of weeks of pro-democracy protests in the Gulf island kingdom. Drills and diggers cut away at the six bases of the statue for hours, until it collapsed into a mound of rubble and steel bars. Trucks stood by to take away the debris. (Hamad I Mohammed / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. People walk past a car damaged with shotgun pellets in Sitra on March 17. (James Lawler Duggan / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. The Bahraini National Guard arrest a man who was later identified as journalist Alex Delmar-Morgan of the Wall Street Journal as he walked towards Pearl Square in Manama on March 16. Several hours later, Morgan was released. (Joseph Eid / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Anti-government protestors gesture towards military vehicles near Pearl Square in Manama on March 16 after police killed at least two protesters and wounded dozens more as they assaulted a peaceful protest camp in the capital's Pearl Square, an opposition party official said. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Black smoke billows from burning tents in Pearl Square in Manama on March 16 after soldiers and riot police used tear gas and armored vehicles to drive out hundreds of anti-government protesters occupying the square. (Joseph Eid / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Black smoke billows in Pearl Square on March 16 after a full-scale assault on the protesters occupying the square was launched at daybreak by soldiers and police. (James Lawler Duggan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) forces move in to Pearl Square to remove anti-government protesters on March 16. The GCC is a union comprising Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. (Hamad I Mohammed / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Doctors form a human chain at Salmaniya Hospital in Manama fearing an attack by riot police on March 15. (Hamad I Mohammed / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. A man from the Shiite Muslim village of Sitra, south of the Bahraini capital Manama is brought to the Salmaniya hospital late on March 15 after he was shot with pellets of buckshot, as the king imposed a state of emergency after bringing in foreign troops to help quell anti-regime protests. (James Lawler Duggan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Thousands of anti-government protesters march to the Saudi embassy in Manama on March 15, a day after a Saudi-led military force entered the country to defend its Sunni monarchy from a Shiite-led protest movement. The yellow sign center foreground reads: "The Saudi army came to protect the illegitimate government, not the aggrieved, legitimate nation" and the banner at right says: "The Saudi army's entry to Bahrain is an occupation we will never accept." (Hasan Jamali / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Female anti-government protesters gather outside the Saudi Arabian embassy in Manama on Tuesday, March 15. (James Lawler Duggan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Saudi Arabian troops cross the causeway leading to Bahrain on March 14. About 1,000 Saudi soldiers entered Bahrain to protect government facilities, a Saudi official source said, a day after mainly Shi'ite protesters overran police and blocked roads. (Reuters TV ) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Protesters confront riot police on a flyover near the Pearl Square in Manama on March 13. Bahraini riot police fired thick clouds of tear gas and pushed back protesters who blocked a main thoroughfare leading to the Bahrain Financial Harbour, a key business district in the Gulf Arab region's banking center. (Hamad I Mohammed / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Protesters set up makeshift roadblocks in Manama on March 13. Bahraini police clashed with demonstrators trying to occupy Manama's banking center, as protests spread from a peaceful sit-in to the heart of the strategic Gulf state's business district. (James Lawler Duggan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. A protester gestures in front of riot police on an overpass near Pearl roundabout in Manama on March 13. (Hasan Jamali / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Opposition protesters take cover after being fired upon by police during an opposition march on Riffa, south of the capital Manama, on March 11. Police clashed with protesters on the outskirts of Riffa after pro-government supporters were able to pass through police lines and attack the opposition march, leaving hundreds injured according to the health ministry, mainly due to tear-gas inhalation. (Mazen Mahdi / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Protesters holding signs that read: "Down With Al-Khalifa" (left and right) stand in front of the U.S. embassy during a demonstration where they accused the U.S. government of supporting dictatorships, in Manama on March 7. (Hamad I Mohammed / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. A protester kisses a police officer after being told to clear the way for a female driver in Manama on March 3. The protester was blocking the road during an anti-government rally. (Hamad I Mohammed / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Anti-government protesters gesture in front of the main gate of the Interior Ministry during demonstrations in Manama on March 2. Protests in Bahrain are starting to make forays away from the central square in Manama and into different parts of the city. (Hamad I Mohammed / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Anti-government protesters march toward the Pearl roundabout, March 1, in the capital of Manama. Tens of thousands of Bahrainis, largely Shiites, participated in the march urging unity among Sunnis and Shiites in demanding political reform. (Hasan Jamali / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: TOPSHOTS

Bahraini Shiites women attend t
    Joseph Eid / AFP - Getty Images
    Above: Slideshow (31) 2011 Bahrain uprising - March
  2. Image: Bahraini protesters sit and rest in their tent at Pearl Square in Bahraini capital of Manama
    Hamad I Mohammed / Reuters
    Slideshow (63) 2011 Bahrain uprising - February

Video: Violent crackdown on Bahrain protesters

  1. Closed captioning of: Violent crackdown on Bahrain protesters

    >>> and as we've been reporting, as the world's attention has been focused on the japan disaster, some of the arab nations are heating up again. while gadhafi has been gobbling up territory, taking it back from the rebels, bearing down on their head quarter city of benghazi, in bahrain protesters are rising up again. that government is so concerned they asked the saudis to send troops. nbc's john ray is in bahrain with more on the crackdown.

    >> reporter: the protesters tents burn, all hope for peaceful change disappearing in thick plumes of smoke. the government regained control, cleansing it says the capital of criminals and saboteurs. nobody knows how many have been killed or injured today but the protesters have been thrown out of the square. as military helicopters hovered menacingly overhead, we came across people sheltering in a side street , showing us the tear gas canisters and rubber bullets it endured. security forces blocked off the city's main hospital. at another clinic, we met a young woman shot in the shoulder and in the hand. the protests have pitted the them against the rulers. they have instituted martial law and called in military reinforcements from saudi arabia . a move condemned today by their ally, the united states , and i iran, their rival power in the gulf. john ray , nbc news, bahrain .

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