Ignoring Bahrain’s iron fist

Sarah Margon and Mary Laurie write: For two years, as the United States has condemned massive abuses of protesters throughout the Middle East, it has largely turned a blind eye to equally horrific treatment in Bahrain, a small but significant ally. As the situation in Manama shows no sign of abating, the United States needs to step up its game– before it’s too late.

Last week, a Bahraini court sentenced 50 Shiites, including the human rights activist Naji Fateel, to harsh prison terms of up to 15 years after a mass trial allegedly linking the activists to the “February 14” movement, which it claims is working to overthrow the government. February 14 is the date in 2011 when the recent protest movement began. The leaders of those largely peaceful protests remain in prison and have been joined over the past two years by other activists convicted solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.

A week before the sentencing, U.S. President Barack Obama made an unexpected reference to Bahrain, alongside Iraq and Syria, as a country fraught with sectarian tensions that challenge democracy and regional stability in his September 24 address to the U.N. General Assembly. This reference prompted the Bahraini foreign affairs minister to issue a statement extolling the country’s culture as tolerant. Bahrain’s U.S. ambassador also responded, contending the speech did not properly portray Bahrain’s progressive and open-minded society.

The presidential mention ruffled feathers in Manama — a sure sign of U.S. diplomatic leverage there — but it was not enough to stop last week’s sentencing. [Continue reading…]

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