18 September 2019 – This past Monday, on 16 September, United States (US) President Donald Trump welcomed Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa to the White House to discuss security cooperation and the strengthening of the Bahraini-US strategic partnership. Human rights were once again notably missing from the agenda. While in Washington DC, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa also sat down with Vice President Mike Pence and signed an agreement to purchase Bahrain’s first US Patriot missile battery. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) strongly condemns the Trump Administration’s failure to use meetings with the Crown Prince to raise concerns and address the ongoing human rights violations in Bahrain. ADHRB additionally is deeply disappointed with the Administration’s continued military cooperation with the kingdom, and its refusal to use arms sales as leverage to improve Bahrain’s human rights situation.
President Trump’s meeting with the Bahraini Crown Prince comes as the Bahraini government continues its escalating repression against human rights defenders, activists, and members of the political opposition. Just months prior to the Crown Prince’s visit, Bahrain executed two torture victims who had been sentenced to death in a blatantly unfair mass trial – the first executions carried out in over two years. The decision to carry out these executions was directly influenced by the US, which had announced the resumption of capital punishment at a federal level just days before.
Prominent Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab has previously called on the Trump administration to review its relationships with authoritarian regimes like Bahrain. The day after Crown Prince Salman met with President Trump, a Bahraini court rejected Nabeel’s appeal for alternative sentencing. Nabeel is serving a five year prison sentence for tweets critical of the war in Yemen and highlighting torture in Bahrain’s prisons. Bahrain’s new law concerning alternative sentencing is supposed to allow individuals to be released from prison and serve the remainder of their sentence in the form of community service, house arrest, or the payment of fines if they meet certain conditions including being “of good conduct” and not a security risk, yet despite applying for alternative sentencing, Nabeel Rajab has been rejected multiple times.
In spite of Bahrain’s poor human rights record, under the Trump administration Bahrain has been able to secure arms sales worth over $8.5 billion, not including the recent agreement to purchase Patriot missiles. The last time Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa was in DC in 2017 he signed an agreement for Bahrain to purchase US F-16 fighter aircraft.
“The US is creating an atmosphere of greater suffering and unrest in Bahrain, both by ignoring ongoing abuses and by continuing to reward the kingdom with arms,” says ADHRB Executive Director Husain Abdulla. “Trump deciding to use his leverage and influence to encourage the kingdom to respect human rights and allow democratic change is the only way to preserve US strategic relationships in the region that hosts its Fifth Fleet. Unfortunately, it does not seem like Trump is willing to even discuss human rights with Bahrain’s leaders. Trade deals and partnerships should not come at the cost of human rights.”
Bahrain’s stability is vital to US security in the region, but without human rights the kingdom’s current state is unsustainable. Meetings where “friendships” between countries are flaunted, but human rights concerns are not raised, will do little to ensure America’s interests abroad. ADHRB calls on the Trump Administration to seriously rethink its policy towards Bahrain and other allies in the region, with a view towards protecting and promoting human rights.