Russian MIG-29 fighter jets perform in display (Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images)

US Arms Sales to Bahrain Expected Soon

Move “Sends Wrong Signal” Say Human Rights Groups

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has told Congress that he intends to lift all human rights conditions on a large sale of F-16 fighter jets and other arms to Bahrain. Human rights defenders say the move will encourage the government to further violate human rights.

“This sends the wrong signal,” James Lynch, the head of arms control and human rights for Amnesty International told The Media Line. “The Obama Administration had made this linkage to human rights specifically on issues of space for dissent and the conditions of prisoners. We see this as a disappointing reversal.”

The arms sale of 19 new American fighter jets is worth $2.8 billion. Bahrain, which is home to the US fifth fleet, is governed by a Sunni monarchy. The majority of the population is Shi’ite.

The decision sets a bad precedent for the Trump Administration, human rights advocates say.

“The decision to provide warplanes regardless of the mounting repression in Bahrain is another sign – if one were needed – of the Trump administration’s hostility to human rights concerns. As long as peaceful critics like Nabeel Rajab are in jail, those F-16s should stay on this side of the ocean,” Joe Stork, the Deputy director, MENA division of Human Rights Watch told The Media Line.

Rajab is a Bahraini activist who has been jailed repeatedly for criticizing the regime, including for tweeting against the King.

Lynch said that Amnesty is concerned that Bahrain has used American fighter jets in the Saudi campaign in Yemen against the Iranian-backed Houthis. One of these jets crashed in Yemen in 2015. He said they are also worried about the inability of Shi’ite groups to express their opinion and the condition of prisoners in jail.

“Bahrain has seen a deterioration in the human rights situation over the past nine months in a number of different fields,” he said. “There have been new charges against human rights defenders, closing of political parties, new charges against people in jail, and executions that sparked protests. This is a country where the human rights situation is sliding in the wrong direction.”

Earlier this year, Bahrain executed three men accused of killing three police officers.

“This is a dark day for human rights in Bahrain. These executions – the first to be carried out since 2010 – are a deeply regressive step for a country whose authorities’ have repeatedly trumpeted their commitment to human rights,” Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Campaigns in Beirut, Samah Hadid said then.

Bahrain has also imposed jail sentences of life in prison for many involved in demonstrations against the regime. Saeed Shehabi was one of the leaders of the national uprising in 2011. He fled the country and was sentenced to life in prison in absentia. Today he is a member of the Bahrain Freedom Movement.

“Protests against the government have not ceased for even one day,” Shehabi told The Media Line. “There are arrests and trials all of the time.”

Just this week, he said, the government passed new regulations that prisoners must be shackled when leaving the jail for family visits or medical treatment. Some of the protestors are elderly, he said, and none of them are violent.

He said he was “shocked and disappointed” by the decision to sell the F-16 jets to Bahrain.

“There has been a general trend in the West to support security over democracy,” he said. “But now neither security nor democracy is on the agenda.”

He said there were daily violations of human rights in Bahrain and other Gulf countries and they are not even reported on the news. He urged the Trump Administration not to go ahead with the planned arms sales as they will only lead to more human rights abuses.

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