MURPHY LEADS BIPARTISAN GROUP OF 7 SENATORS IN URGING SEC. KERRY TO PRESS BAHRAIN ON HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES

Senators: “[T]he severe deterioration of political space and human rights in Bahrain…could quickly intensify and destabilize an important United States ally.”

WASHINGTON – As the Bahraini government continues to target the country’s peaceful opposition party and other nonviolent human rights defenders, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism, led a bipartisan call on Thursday with U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Marco Rubio (R-Fl.), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) in urging U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to press the Government of Bahrain to protect the rights of its citizens and implement provisions that promote political and social reform and reconciliation among Bahrain’s diverse communities.  In a letter addressed to Secretary Kerry, the senators expressed concern that the Bahraini government’s actions to suppress free speech and political dissent could destabilize the country, encourage Iranian meddling, and ultimately undermine the security interests of the United States. The senators also requested that Secretary Kerry provide them with information about the specific actions the U.S. State Department is taking to address the situation in Bahrain, and emphasized that the U.S. must be prepared to deliver consequences if the Bahraini government continues to oppress its citizens. 

“We are deeply alarmed by the severe deterioration of political space and human rights in Bahrain. If the monarchy does not take immediate action to reverse these decisions and demonstrate equal respect for the civil and human rights of all its citizens, the country’s political crisis risks spiraling into violence and allowing further exploitation by Tehran,” wrote the senators. “As longtime allies, we call on the Government of Bahrain to uphold its obligations to protect the rights of citizens, including peaceful freedom of expression and assembly.”

The senators continued, “We respectfully request additional information on the specific actions the Administration is taking to press Bahrain’s leadership to return to a path of reform and reconciliation. We believe that the U.S. response to recent events must address the problems highlighted by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, and we must be prepared to consider tangible consequences, including reconsideration of arms sales, if this unprecedented crackdown continues.”

On the fifth anniversary of the Arab Spring-inspired protests in Bahrain, Murphy called on the leaders of Bahrain to commit to reviving a national dialogue process to promote political, social, economic, and human rights reforms. On February 14th, 2011, the Bahraini people demanded increased political freedom, participation in governance, and equality among its citizens. Those protests ended in a bloody crackdown and intensified societal divisions among the Bahraini people. 

The full text of the letter is below: 

Dear Secretary Kerry,

We are deeply alarmed by the severe deterioration of political space and human rights in Bahrain. In the last few weeks, the Bahraini government has taken a series of troubling steps targeting the country’s peaceful opposition, as well as nonviolent human rights defenders and members of civil society. Without an immediate reversal of these actions, we fear that tensions in Bahrain could quickly intensify and destabilize an important United States ally.

On June 14, the Bahraini Ministry of Justice issued an order to dissolve the country’s largest opposition party, seize its assets, and forcibly close its offices. Just a few weeks earlier, a Bahraini court more than doubled the prison term of Sheikh Ali Salman, the leader of al-Wefaq, on charges stemming from peaceful free speech.

Bahrain’s human rights community and religious leaders associated with the political opposition have also come under renewed pressure. Rights activist Zainab al-Khawaja was released from prison, only to be forced into exile after receiving threats that she would be jailed again. The Bahraini government rearrested the President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Nabeel Rajab, on charges related to his free expression. The government dissolved two of the country’s nonpolitical Shia religious societies, and more than 250 people have had their citizenship revoked.

The State Department’s June 21 report assessing the Government of Bahrain’s implementation of recommendations made by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) confirms that the government has not implemented key provisions on national reconciliation and freedom of expression, including nonviolent dissent.

Bahrain’s failure to address the legitimate grievances of its citizens has strained the country’s social fabric and invited outside actors to take advantage of the deteriorating situation. Indeed, we believe the government’s harsh crackdown on the political opposition undermines the country’s stability and plays into the hands of Iran. Bahrainis of all sects need to feel that their fundamental human rights are guaranteed and that they have the opportunity to live their lives as full members of Bahraini society. If the monarchy does not take immediate action to reverse these decisions and demonstrate equal respect for the civil and human rights of all its citizens, the country’s political crisis risks spiraling into violence and allowing further exploitation by Tehran.

As longtime allies, we call on the Government of Bahrain to uphold its obligations to protect the rights of citizens, including peaceful freedom of expression and assembly. We urge Bahrain’s leadership to press ahead with its efforts toward meaningful dialogue and reconciliation with members of the opposition, and we echo the comments of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein: “Repression will not eliminate people’s grievances; it will increase them.”

We respectfully request additional information on the specific actions the Administration is taking to press Bahrain’s leadership to return to a path of reform and reconciliation. We believe that the U.S. response to recent events must address the problems highlighted by the BICI, and we must be prepared to consider tangible consequences, including reconsideration of arms sales, if this unprecedented crackdown continues.

Sincerely,

U.S. Senator Chris Murphy

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio

U.S. Senate Patrick Leahy

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden

U.S. Senator Bob Casey

U.S. Senator Chris Coons

U.S. Senator Tim Kaine