United States Needs Direct Response to New Wave of Repression in Bahrain
Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today urged the United States to publicly state how it plans to respond to the ongoing crackdown on peaceful dissent in Bahrain, its military ally and home of the Navy’s Fifth Fleet. On January 20, Bahraini authorities have scheduled a court verdict for leading human rights defender Nabeel Rajab and are slated to decide whether to extend the custody of prominent opposition leader Ali Salman.
“The Bahraini regime seems to have interpreted United States’ lack of response to this new wave of repression as a sign that it can get away with targeting peaceful dissidents without consequences from its allies. The United States should make clear that it will respond to the harassment of Bahrain’s peaceful opposition and human rights defenders,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley.
Tuesday’s decisions on Rajab and Salman come just weeks before the fourth anniversary of the popular uprisings against the ruling family that began on February 14, 2011. The anniversary period is usually one of heightened political and social tension in Bahrain. Nabeel Rajab is awaiting a verdict on charges that he insulted government ministries on Twitter and he faces up to six years in prison if convicted. Ali Salman, head of the main opposition group al Wefaq, was arrested three weeks ago and charged with a variety of speech-related offenses, including insulting the king. Human rights defender Hussain Jawad was in court earlier this week, also charged with insulting the king.
“Bahrain looks an increasingly shaky bet for the United States,” added Dooley. “Packing its jails with political prisoners and banning peaceful criticism is the surest way to more unrest. Washington needs to help steer Bahrain away from the brink but seems unwilling or unable to do that.”
Since the November elections, which were overwhelmingly won by pro-government candidates in the face of an opposition boycott, the Bahraini government has moved steadily and forcefully against its peaceful critics. While the United States has put some arms transfers on hold since 2011 and the State Department has called for the charges against Rajab to be dropped, there have been no new measures announced in response to the regime’s increasingly harder line on dissent. Most of Bahrain’s leading civil society and opposition figures are in exile or in prison. Local human rights activists have told Human Rights First that the United States has failed them.
“American officials come here and say things are better. What planet are they living on? House raids, collective punishment of neighborhoods, political leaders in prison, it’s happening all the time,” said Dr. Rula al Saffar, one of the dozens of Bahraini medics arrested and tortured into making false confessions in 2011 after treating injured protestors. “The U.S. statements of concern are useless unless they’re going to take action to stop these attacks by the government against its people.”