1 March 2019 – Yesterday, on 28 February, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) submitted a statement for the Congressional Record, addressing the deteriorating situation in Bahrain. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) welcomes Senator Wyden’s statement and echos the concerns raised.
In his statement, Senator Wyden looked back eight years to the violent government crackdown that took place when Bahraini citizens launched a peaceful protest movement in 2011. He called attention to how the issue still resonates, as the Bahraini authorities have intensified their attack on independent civil and political society.
Just this past November, the Bahraini government held elections for their lower house of Parliament, which were largely deemed to be unfree and unfair. Senator Wyden highlighted how the government had banned opposition parties from participating altogether, and stressed how that is not exactly “a recipe for a free, fair, or legitimate outcome.” Senator Wyden also raised his concern over the Bahraini government’s willingness to arbitrarily revoke citizenship as a punishment for activism and dissent, the closure of the last independent newspaper, and the targeting of journalists.
The senator specifically voiced disappointment with the Trump administration for its refusal to push the Bahraini government to adhere to its human rights commitments. Senator Wyden noted the Trump administration is setting a new low, as the President himself has made clear that he “views the world through a transactional lens and is willing to overlook rights violations in the name of arms sales or greater defense cooperation.”
Senator Wyden concluded the statement by calling on Bahrain to halt its brutal repression of peaceful protest and to release political prisoners like human rights defenders Nabeel Rajab and Abdulhadi al-Khawaja.
Read the statement in the Congressional Record here.
Mr. WYDEN – Mr. President, February marks the anniversary of the massive, peaceful protests against Bahrain’s repressive regime in 2011. Bahraini citizens, men and women of all ages and backgrounds, demanded more accountability from their leaders and more agency in their lives.
Instead of sitting down with the protesters as leaders in Oregon or Washington, DC, often do, Bahrain’s rulers unleashed the country’s security forces on them. I am afraid that it has now become a rather sad tradition of mine to remind the Senate of these events, and so before February gives way to March, I just wanted to offer a few words on why this issue continues to resonate.
Bahrain held elections in November 2018, but they were hardly on the level.‘‘The Economist’’ termed them ‘‘unfair.’’ The head of Human Rights First called them ‘‘fake elections.’’ The Project on Middle East Democracy and Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain said they were a ‘‘sham.’’ The list goes on.
This should come as no surprise to anybody paying attention to development in Bahrain because the regime banned opposition parties from participating altogether. That is not exactly a recipe for a free, fair, or legitimate outcome.
Indeed, the regime has spent the past couple years detaining, intimidating, and silencing the political opposition. But don’t take my word for it, that’s how Amnesty International characterized the situation before the November elections.
The repression extends far beyond the ballot box. Human rights advocates say the regime has arbitrarily stripped hundreds of individuals of their citizenship in the past few years. Human Right Watch indicates that
the regime closed the last remaining independent newspaper in 2017. Freedom House says the regime continues to bully journalists and to persecute those who are critical of the regime.
Bahrain is a longtime U.S. ally in a tumultuous region. My intent with these annual statements is neither to insult the Kingdom nor to demand the administration cut ties.
No, the point of these statements is to make it clear that I believe the United States should always promote basic rights and values and further, that I believe the United States must— must—hold its friends and partners to a higher moral standard.
I was concerned that the previous administration did not do more to push Bahrain’s rulers on this point, but I am deeply disappointed that the Trump administration seems hell-bent on setting a new low. The President himself has made clear that he views the world through a transactional lens and is willing to overlook rights violations in the name of arms sales or greater defense cooperation.
So it is hardly surprising to read that Trump administration officials fail to raise human rights concerns with their Bahraini counterparts.
This must change. I hope it will change. And I hope that the influx of new members of Congress following the 2018 midterm elections will cause it to change.
Today I renew my call on Bahrain’s monarchy to stop brutally repressing peaceful protest, to release political prisoners like Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab, and to offer Bahrainis a greater voice in their country’s future.