15 February 2019 – On 14 February 2019, Representative Jim McGovern provided remarks on the Congressional Record on the ongoing deterioration of human rights in Bahrain. This statement came on the eighth anniversary of the 2011 mass pro-democracy protests, which were met by a violent government crackdown that has continued to this day. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) welcomes the Representative’s powerful statement calling Congress’s attention to the situation in Bahrain and the government’s ongoing systematic abuses.
The 2011 calls for greater political freedom, equal access to socio-economic opportunities, an end to corruption, and political and constitutional reform were met by a violent government crackdown with assistance from Saudi and Emirati troops. During this time, at least 35 were killed, thousands were injured, detained or lost their jobs, and many were tortured. Despite recommendations for human rights reform from the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), the government has instead dissolved political opposition societies, closed independent press, and arrested human rights defenders and political leaders.
On the anniversary of the movement, Representative McGovern called on the Bahraini government to assure “the rights of all Bahraini people,” including:
- The release of political prisoners like Nabeel Rajab, Abulhadi Al-Khawaja, Abduljalil al-Singace and others;
- An end to prohibition of political societies,
- Decriminalization of all speech and the free operation of national and international press;
- An end to arbitrary denaturalization;
- For the arrest powers of the NSA to be relinquished;
- To bring its anti-terror legislation in line with international human rights standards;
- To end discrimination against the Bahraini Shia.
“We thank Representatives McGovern for his steadfast support on issues concerning the deterioration of human rights in Bahrain,” says ADHRB Executive Director Husain Abdulla. “In eight years, the Government of Bahrain has failed to implement any meaningful human rights reform and has instead continued to implement a repressive crackdown on civil and political society. The government must fulfill the simple calls for human rights reform, starting with the release all political prisoners, the restoration of opposition political societies, and an end to the arrest powers of the NSA. Following the anniversary of the pro-democracy movement, the United States government must follow the congressman’s example and must seriously leverage its influence in the kingdom to pressure for measurable reform.”
ADHRB welcomes these powerful remarks from Congressman McGovern and thanks him for championing the rights of Bahrainis in the US House of Representatives. Following the eighth anniversary of the 2011 pro-democracy movement, ADHRB echoes the congressman’s calls for the Government of Bahrain to release activists like Nabeel Rajab, Naji Fateel, and Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, as well as opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman and photojournalist Ahmed Humaidan. The government must cease the arbitrary denaturalization of Bahrainis and systematic sectarian discrimination. Bahrain must also promote and protect fundamental freedoms like freedom of expression, assembly, association, and religion. Further, the United States government must leverage its influence in calling for these conditions if there is to be any hope of measurable reform since 2011.
Read the full-text of the letter below, or find a pdf of the letter here.
BAHRAIN MUST CHANGE DIRECTION
HON. JAMES P. McGOVERN
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Thursday, February 14, 2019
Mr. MCGOVERN. Madam Speaker, today marks the 8th anniversary of the beginning of the Pearl Uprising in Bahrain.
On this day eight years ago, thousands of Bahrainis gathered in peaceful protests to demand greater political freedom, and political and constitutional reform.
Their demands were not new—the roots went back to the 1970s.
They were not radical: Bahrainis wanted greater popular participation in governance, equal access to socio-economic opportunities and development, action against corruption and an end to the practice of political naturalization.
And they were not sectarian—even though Bahrain is a majority Shi’a country ruled by a minority Sunni monarchy.
But by the end of March 2011, what started as a moment of hope had been met with massive repression by the Bahraini government and security forces sent by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. As protests grew and spread, at least 35 people died, some 3,000 people were injured, thousands were detained or lost their jobs, and many were brutally tortured, including medical doctors.
King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain did take some steps to address the people’s demands. His appointment of the 5-member Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry BICI) to examine the government’s response to the protests was an important gesture. And the 26 recommendations contained in the BICI report, which the monarch promised to implement, did inspire some new hope that change was possible.
Many of us in Congress urged the government to fully implement the BICI recommendations and to cease the repression of human rights defenders and peaceful opposition leaders.
But in the years since, hope has been completely dashed. Some initial important reforms have been rolled back, opposition political societies are banned, peaceful human rights defenders and popular opposition leaders are spending their lives in jail, sectarian divisions have hardened, hundreds have been stripped of their citizenship, no independent press remains, the most recent elections were a sham—and to top it all off, the Bahraini government has supported the Saudis in the brutal war in Yemen and the senseless embargo of Qatar.
Madam Speaker, some observers turn a blind eye to Bahrain’s increasingly authoritarian rule because they accept Bahrain’s argument that Iran is to blame for encouraging the Shi’a population to rebel.
These days, any mention of Iran is often enough to silence legitimate criticism.
But what I see is a Bahraini government whose own policies deepen sectarian divisions and create the conditions for unrest.
In spite of their majority status, Bahraini Shiites are less likely to hold jobs in the all-important public sector. They are almost entirely disqualified from serving in the police or military. They live in highly segregated neighborhoods with inferior public services compared to Sunni areas. They are systematically underrepresented in the lower house of parliament.
No one should be surprised that this stark political and economic inequality causes grievance. Add to that Bahrain’s crushing of political expression and channels of participation, and you have a recipe for fostering extremism.
No government that does this can be considered a true United States ally in the war against terrorism. You cannot claim to be fighting extremism when your own policies foster it.
On this anniversary, I renew my call to the government of Bahrain to free Nabeel Rajab, Sheikh Ali Salman, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, Abduljalil Al-Singace, Ahmed Humaidan, Naji Fateel and all other prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising their most fundamental human rights.
And I call on the government to end the prohibition on political societies, decriminalize all speech, allow national and international press to operate without state intervention, stop rendering its citizens stateless, strip the National Security Agency of its power to arrest, bring its anti-terrorism legislation into line with international human rights standards, integrate its security forces and end discrimination against the Shi’a population everywhere it exists.
Only if these steps are taken will the rights of all the Bahraini people, the country’s longterm stability and America’s national interests be assured.