February 29, 2016

Sen. Wyden on the 5-Year Anniversary of Popular Protests in Bahrain

Sen. Wyden submitted the following statement for the record on the 5-year anniversary of popular protests in Bahrain   

Mr. WYDEN.  Mr. President, this month marks five years since Bahrainis of all backgrounds took to the streets in Manama in peaceful protest, calling for reform in their country.  As Senators have heard me recount here before, the government of Bahrain responded with violence and repression, torture and retaliation.  In response, the monarchy set up an independent commission: the so-called the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, or BICI.  And I say this is important to recall because many of the BICI’s 26 specific, concrete recommendations remain unfulfilled five years later. 

     That certainly isn’t what the government of Bahrain wants you to believe.  In fact, the regime’s representatives continue to insist that they have fully implemented all of the BICI recommendations.  As they tell it, they’ve turned the page on that chapter of Bahrain’s history. 

     But members of Bahrain’s peaceful opposition feel trapped in a never-ending story.    Non-governmental organizations like Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain, Amnesty International, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, and the Project on Middle East Democracy have all documented the regime’s ongoing repression.  The State Department’s most recent annual human rights report for Bahrain states that protestors face “arbitrary deprivation of life,” “arrest and detention of protesters…occasionally leading to their torture,” and “restrictions on civil liberties, including freedom of speech, press, assembly association, and religion.”  And as some colleagues know, the State Department could last certify that Bahrain had only fully implemented five of the 26 BICI recommendations.  That’s a pretty far cry from full implementation. 

     As the son of a journalist, I want to take a minute to highlight one particular aspect of the regime’s repression: the crackdown on speech and expression.  As recently as this month, a Bahraini court sentenced an internationally-known photographer to serve jail time for participating in an unlicensed protest.  The regime has similarly targeted bloggers as well as prominent and award-winning photo-journalists for merely capturing Bahrain’s ongoing unrest.  And just this month, a Bahraini court sentenced a Sunni opposition leader to one year in prison for giving a political speech.  

     Despite these concerns, the Obama administration chose last year to resume selling or transferring certain arms to the government of Bahrain.  I was one of the biggest proponents of the arms ban dating back to 2011 and I saw no reason to revisit the policy last year.  In fact, I introduced the bipartisan BICI Accountability Act, legislation that would block the administration’s decision to overturn the weapons ban until the State Department could certify that all 26 BICI recommendations were fully implemented. 

     I’m not here to make broad pronouncements about what the government of Bahrain should look like—that’s very much a conversation for Bahrain’s people and its rulers to have.  But as President Obama said in 2011, “you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail.”  For Bahrain to move forward, the government will need to release the opposition leaders still languishing in its prisons. 

     The United States and Bahrain have ties that go back decades; our countries are partners and allies.  Indeed, I am not disappointed with the government of Bahrain despite our bilateral relationship, I am disappointed with the government of Bahrain because of our bilateral relationship.  The United States of America has an obligation, it strikes me, to ask more of her friends and allies around the world.  And when they falter or fail, the U.S. has a duty to help them live up to their potential.  And of course there is always the real danger that continued unrest or even greater instability could impact the safety of our soldiers in Bahrain or the future of the American presence there. 

     For these reasons, Mr. President, I speak out today against further oppression and I call again for reconciliation and reform in Bahrain.