US resumes arms sales to Bahrain. Activists feel abandoned
In major setbacks for Bahrain's opposition, the US has decided to resume arms sales to the kingdom and Gulf Arab leaders are meeting to discuss greater regional integration.
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He and 20 others were sentenced, eight of them to life in prison, for their roles in the peaceful pro-reform protests last spring. The trial, which took place in a military court, denied the defendants basic rights of due process, according to international rights organizations. Although that group of prisoners has been granted a retrial, they have remained in prison.Skip to next paragraph
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An official spokeswoman for Bahrain’s Information Affairs Authority said much progress had been made on implementing the BICI recommendations, including the reinstatement of all public sector workers and students who were wrongfully dismissed, a “major overhaul in legal and law enforcement systems,” and appointing officials in the National Security Agency and Ministry of Interior to investigate complaints against the agencies. A “special investigation unit” has also been established to “assess the responsibility of senior personnel in human rights violations and allegations of torture,” said the spokeswoman.
The spokeswoman said that Mr. Rajab was not arrested for his political views, but that he incited violence against police through his statements on Twitter and in a speech at a public rally, and that his calls for protests not approved by the government were “detrimental to public security.”
Activist: 86 killed since uprising began
But Said Yousif AlMuhafda, an activist with the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, says hundreds of others convicted in military courts on expression charges remain imprisoned. Among several thousand employees illegally dismissed from their jobs because of support for or participation in the protests, 1,000 employees have not returned to their jobs, he says.
About 35 Shia mosques destroyed by the government during the uprising have yet to be rebuilt, and protests are still violently dispersed. He says 39 people have died since the BICI began its work, most from tear gas inhalation. He lists the total death toll since February 2011 as 86 people, including at least 30 people from excessive use of tear gas by security forces.
“When it comes to torture, most of the torture has stopped in custody but it is continuing in secret detention,” he says. “The same people who are responsible for torture are still in their positions. All the people who were involved in and responsible for the violations are still in their positions.”
The resumption of US arms sales to Bahrain came after the kingdom’s crown prince, Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, completed a week-long visit to the US, where he met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Since the uprising, the prince, who has been open to dialogue and limited reform, has been marginalized by more hard-line members of the royal family, including the prime minister and defense minister.
Some saw the arms deal as a US attempt to boost the prince’s position within the royal family to increase the possibility of a political solution. But that strategy failed when the US attempted it last year, and is still flawed now, says Justin Gengler, a Doha-based Bahrain analyst who writes the blog Religion and Politics in Bahrain. “By using arms sales in an attempt to bolster the crown prince’s position, they're actually bolstering the counterpoint position to the crown prince,” he says – that of the defense and prime ministers, who see the uprising as a security problem, not a political one.
The move could also simply be an attempt by the US to be seen as doing something to solve the crisis, even if the administration recognizes that the move is unlikely to help the crown prince counter the hardliners, says Dr. Gengler.
* Editor's Note: This story was updated with comment from Bahrain’s Information Affairs Authority.