US must reject $1bn arms sales to Bahrain: HRW

Rights group denounces plans to sell weapons to Gulf island nation citing its ‘dismal record on human rights’.

Bahrain protest
A protester confronts riot police in February 2017 [Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters]

The United States must reject two planned arms sales totalling nearly $1bn to Bahrain in light of the Gulf country’s “dismal record on human rights”, a rights group said on Thursday.

The US approved a possible sale to Bahrain of 3,000 bomb bodies worth an estimated $45m last week. In April, the Department of State approved a possible sale of attack helicopters worth an estimated $911m.

“These two weapons sales make clear that the Trump administration intends nothing short of a free pass on human rights for Bahrain,” said Sarah Margon, Washington director at Human Rights Watch.

A close US and British ally, Sunni Muslim-ruled Bahrain has cracked down on the opposition, hailing mostly from the Shia Muslim majority, since it crushed pro-democracy demonstrations they led in 2011.

Rights groups have accused authorities of seeking to stamp out dissent.


Sharpened crackdown

The government says the opposition is linked to fighters, backed by their regional enemy Iran, who have carried out years of deadly bombing and shooting attacks on security forces.

“In the past year, Bahrain has sharpened its crackdown on activists, lawyers, and journalists,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

“It has arbitrarily revoked a record number of citizenships of nationals, carried out unfair trials of civilians in military courts, and harassed, intimidated, imprisoned, and prosecuted rights defenders and their family members.”

Last week, a court in Bahrain revoked the citizenship of 115 people and gave 53 of them life sentences on “terrorism” charges in one of the most severe rulings yet in the Gulf island kingdom.

Bahrain is also a member of the US-backed Saudi-led military coalition that intervened in Yemen in 2015 after Houthi rebels took control over much of the country. 

Source: Reuters