News|Human Rights
15 rights groups urge Biden to address Bahrain abuses
Donald Trump’s policies encourage authoritarianism in Manama, rights groups say; want Biden to reset relations.
Female riot police officers surround Zaynab, daughter of human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, during an anti-government rally demanding his release in Manama, in 2012 [File: Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters]
4 Mar 2021
A group of 15 rights groups urged the administration of US President Joe Biden to address the deterioration of human rights in Bahrain by adopting a rights-based foreign policy towards the Gulf.
The group, which includes the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), Amnesty International, Reprieve, and the World Organisation Against Torture, wrote in a letter to US State Secretary Anthony Blinken on Wednesday that “Last December, you noted that ‘[i]n too many countries, people are imprisoned and face torture or death for speaking their minds, reporting the news, or demanding their rights.’ This statement sadly reflects the situation in Bahrain over the last four years”.
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The letter points to ​human rights activists Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, Nabeel Rajab​ and ​Ebtisam al-Saegh, who have been detained in Bahrain for their activism.
Human rights activists, Zaynab al-Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab meet activists after al-Khawaja’s release from prison in Manama, Bahrain, on June 3, 2016 [File: Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters]
​”The Biden administration should urge Bahrain to rescind restrictions on civil society, take genuine steps towards justice reform and the restoration of civil rights and reinstate restrictions on arms sales to Bahrain pending an improvement in the country’s rights record.”
Bahrain has engaged in a widespread crackdown since 2011, when the country’s royal family faced nationwide protests calling for its removal.
Former President Donald Trump, who was cosy with Gulf monarchies criticised for their human rights records, said there would no issues between Bahrain and Washington during the first year of his term.
The letter said Bahrain’s rulers were emboldened by President Trump “sending a clear message that his administration would place the pursuit of profit before people”.
“Under President Trump, Bahrain secured over $8.5 billion in arms deals,” the letter said.
Bahrain was among Arab nations that signed normalisation agreements with Israel in 2020 during the Trump administration.
The protests in Bahrain in 2011 came amid similar movements in Tunisia and Egypt, now known as the Arab Spring. A 2021 report from BIRD (PDF) commemorating the widespread demonstrations said that “within days of the first protests, the rulers of Bahrain responded with unrestrained repression, the brutality and scale of which was unprecedented in Bahrain’s modern history.”
The letter came as the Biden administration faced criticism for failing to sanction Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) for his role in the assassination of Saudi journalist and US resident Jamal Khashoggi.
A declassified report released last week shows that US intelligence services determined MBS ordered Khashoggi to be killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.
The Biden administration, which promised to reevaluate the US-Saudi relationship to prioritise human rights, chose not to sanction MBS.
A State Department spokesperson said Biden wants to “recalibrate” the relationship, not “rupture” it.
Several lawmakers, including Representative Ilhan Omar, have introduced bills to sanction MBS. Omar said taking action on MBS’s actions is a “test of our humanity” as she unveiled the bill.
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