Rights groups urge Biden to shift US policy towards Bahrain

Joint letter highlights attacks on opposition figures, human rights defenders, urges US president-elect to restore human rights conditions on any arms sales or military support to Bahrain.

Anti-government protesters hold banners reading 'Yes to democracy' during a 2012 protest asking for the release of political prisoners, in Budaiya, west of Manama [File: Reuters]
Anti-government protesters hold banners reading 'Yes to democracy' during a 2012 protest asking for the release of political prisoners, in Budaiya, west of Manama [File: Reuters]

More than a dozen organisations and rights groups have written to United States President-elect Joe Biden, expressing their concerns about the deteriorating human rights situation in Bahrain and urging him to review his country’s foreign policy.

In Wednesday’s joint letter,18 organisations including Freedom House, International Press Institute and Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy highlighted several measures undertaken by the kingdom’s government over the past decade, including the banning of all opposition parties and the tenfold increase in death sentences since 2017.

“Bahrain’s 2011 Arab Spring uprising, which saw thousands peacefully protest to demand democratic change, was violently and brutally suppressed by the Al Khalifa regime of Bahrain, in a barrage of human rights violations followed by the imposition of draconian measures,” the letter said.

The signatories bring attention to the case of unjustly imprisoned opposition figures, activists and human rights defenders who are being held in deplorable prison conditions and are routinely denied medical care.

They underscored the grave vulnerability of “aging political leaders who suffer underlying health conditions”, such as the leader of the political opposition Hasan Mushaima, amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

The Bahraini government has also cracked down on press and civic freedom, the groups said, noting that civil society figures have been “facing routine judicial harassment, particularly from repressive cybercrime legislation”.

According to Freedom House, at least 21 individuals were arrested, detained or persecuted for their online activity between June 2018 and May 2019. Since the start of the pandemic, some 39 individuals have been arbitrarily detained.

The joint letter also highlights the increased use of the death penalty in Bahrain, where 27 individuals are currently on death row, 25 of whom are “at imminent risk of execution”. Of the latter, almost half were convicted based on coerced confessions allegedly extracted under torture, it added.

The letter also called on Biden, who is due to be sworn in next month, to restore human rights conditions on any arms sales or military support to Bahrain, and to consider the US’s willingness to relocate the Fifth Fleet should Bahrain continue to violate the human rights of its citizens.

The signatories recommended Biden’s administration to work on securing the release of all imprisoned political opposition figures, and to ensure that victims of Bahrain’s government abuses receive compensation and justice.

In 2011, a Shia-led opposition staged protests across the country demanding reforms in the Sunni-led kingdom. But the ruling Al Khalifa family has responded by cracking down dissent and sought the help of neighbouring Saudi Arabia, which sent troops to help crush the unrest.

Authorities have denied targeting the opposition and say they are protecting national security. Bahrain has also accused Iran of stoking the unrest in the country, an accusation Tehran denies.

Source: Al Jazeera

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