President Joe Biden has signed into law a legislation that calls for an accounting by the US State Department of its efforts to free political prisoners in Bahrain.
The Statement accompanying the Fiscal Year 2022 Consolidated Appropriations Act states, “Not later than 60 days after the enactment of the Act, the Secretary of State shall submit a report to the Committees on Appropriations, which may be in classified form if necessary, detailing efforts made on behalf of political prisoners in Bahrain and the Government of Bahrain’s response.” Support for the Act was bipartisan.
The report was originally called for by the Senate Appropriations Committee. The House Appropriations Committee had adopted language encouraging, “the Department of State to prioritize working with the Government of Bahrain to make meaningful progress toward establishing democratic institutions and holding accountable those responsible, including in the armed forces and Ministry of Interior, for human rights violations. “
The report is expected no later than May 15, 2022.
The move was made in advance of parliamentary elections that are scheduled to be held in Bahrain in November 2022. The last parliamentary elections held in Bahrain in 2018 were widely seen as undemocratic, unfree, and unfair. The Government of Bahrain refused to allow outside observers to monitor the 2018 elections.
“Conditions in Bahrain at the present time make free and fair elections impossible,” said Husain Abdulla, Executive Director of Americans for Democracy& Human Rights in Bahrain. “Unless conditions improve quickly, the 2022 elections will again be a sham perpetrated by the Government of Bahrain on the Bahraini people and any façade of democracy in Bahrain will end,” he added.
Independent human rights monitoring organizations and the US State Department have catalogued a long list of egregious human rights abuse and anti-democratic practices by the Government of Bahrain. Opposition political leaders in Bahrain are in prison, opposition parties have been banned, the free media has been shuttered, freedom of expression and assembly have been severely curtailed — including online expressions like Twitter –, and candidates must be approved by the Government. Torture and arbitrary detention are common.
“The congressionally-mandated report is part of a larger effort to encourage the US State Department and other leading democracies to live up to the promises and rhetoric of the Biden Administration’s Summit for Democracy and to put pressure on anti-democratic regimes like the Government of Bahrain,” said Abdulla. “If the 2022 elections are as unfair as the 2018 elections, the US must begin to pivot away from Bahrain and seek out partners in the Middle East who share US values,” he added.
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain has identified the following minimum actions that the Government of Bahrain must take for free elections to be held. The Government of Bahrain must:
- Unconditionally release all political prisoners, including opposition leader Hasan Mushaima, human rights defender Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, and academic Dr. Abduljalil Alsingace.
- Pardon all political prisoners who have been released under the alternative sentencing program and remove all restrictions on their civil, political, economic, and social rights.
- Allow opposition parties – including those currently banned — to operate without conditions.
- Begin a meaningful dialogue with the political opposition about promotion of democratic institutions in Bahrain.
- Place no preconditions on who may run for parliamentary seats – particularly, the government should have no say in vetting and approving candidates.
- Allow free media, remove restrictions on freedom of expression, including on social media, and permit freedom of assembly.
- Allow independent international monitors to observe the election.
“Over the past ten or fifteen years, the Government of Bahrain has shown no interest in pivoting away from authoritarian rule and toward democracy,” said Abdulla. “But if they do want to exercise good faith and hold free and fair elections — and I strongly encourage them to — the path is clear, the choice is theirs, and there is no impediment to them choosing freedom. It would make the country more stable in the long run.”