On 24 February 2015, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) submitted a statement for the record to commemorate the four year anniversary of the 2011 uprising in Bahrain. In the statement, Senator Wyden describes how the Bahraini government continues to abuse human rights to silence opposition voices and urges the government to reconsider its policy of sacrificing human rights under the guise of stability and security.
Please continue reading for the full statement.
Mr. President, this month marks another important anniversary for many Bahrainis. Four years ago, more than a 100,000 people took to the streets of Manama, camping out at Pearl Roundabout and peacefully protesting their lack of access to Bahrain’s political system and their government’s abuse of basic human rights. Bahrain’s rulers responded to these calls for reform as authoritarian regimes so often do: with force. In the years since, an estimated 3,000 Bahrainis have been arrested, more than 150 protesters have been killed and more than 100 people have had their citizenship revoked. Indeed, the Bahraini regime continues to go to great lengths to stifle peaceful protest and quell any dissent by closing down media outlets and filling up already overcrowded prisons with political prisoners and human rights defenders. While many Bahrainis feel their struggle has been forgotten by the world, I want them to know that it will not go unremembered or unmarked here in the U.S. Senate.
The regime continues to go to great lengths to convince the world that it is making progress but I am sad to report that I cannot share that conclusion. Not while the regime refuses to permit a visit by Juan Mendez, the U.N.’s top torture investigator. Not while opposition leaders sit in Bahraini jails. And not while the State Department’s last Human Rights Report lists abuses that include “restrictions on civil liberties,” “arbitrary deprivation of life,” and “arrest and detention of protesters on vague charges, in some cases leading to their torture in detention.”
Four years after the peaceful protests began, Bahrain’s rulers continue to commit human rights violations while taking only superficial steps toward a meaningful political solution. As a result, several attempts to conclude a national dialogue among Bahrain’s interests and parties have only resulted in stalemate. Unsurprisingly, the regime cracked down on the largest political opposition bloc in the lead-up to the November 2014 elections, resulting in a large-scale boycott of the election by voters. The regime arrested a senior opposition leader 1 month later, an action that the State Department warned “will only inflame tensions” and further dampen potential for a renewed political dialogue. The regime responded not by releasing that leader, but by doubling down and moving to criminalize the political party he leads.
On this somber anniversary , I want to take the occasion to urge the Bahraini regime to implement true and meaningful reforms, to cease the use of violence and repression against peaceful protesters, and to engage in credible dialogue about the future of Bahrain . To be clear, my aim is not to dictate to Bahrain’s rulers what their government ought to look like; indeed, those decisions can only be made by the people of Bahrain . But Bahrain has long been an ally of the United States, and I believe this country has an obligation to hold friends to a higher standard.
To those who will say that human rights abuses are bad but that stability and cooperation in the region must come before such concerns, I say that you are offering a false choice. I worry there will come a day when peaceful protesters, seeing no hope for redress, ask themselves if they, too, should not resort to violence. Indeed, the prospect of further violence and instability–or full-blown civil war–could have a profound impact on regional security and on the thousands of United States military personnel stationed in Bahrain. That is why I will continue coming down to this floor on this sad anniversary and keep using my voice in this body to raise awareness of this important issue.