Will Congress Put Bahrain in the Human Rights Spotlight?

Bahraini boy with tear gas cannisters

Bahraini Shiite boy crouches by pile of tear gas canisters collected by protesters (AFP/Getty Images)

Against a backdrop of ongoing human rights violations in Bahrain, the US Congress is about to hold a high-level public hearing today on events in the country.  Organized by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, the hearing will focus attention on whether or not Bahrain’s government has actually followed through on the promises it made to end human rights abuses and hold violators accountable.

The hearing comes at a key time. In April of this year, Amnesty International issued an important report demonstrating the Bahraini authorities’ failure to implement human rights reforms. Indeed, Bahraini courts have continued to sentence activists to prison simply for criticizing the government.

These prisoners of conscience include Nabeel Rajab, who faces 3 months in jail for tweets that the government didn’t like.  Doctors and medical workers have also been sentenced to prison following comments they made to the international media.  And then there is Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, a political activist who is now imprisoned on a life sentence.

Today’s hearing on Bahrain will bring together key voices:

  • Former Bahraini Member of Parliament Matar Ebrahim Matar, who was arrested by the Bahrain government for his criticism of the Bahraini monarchy.
  • US Senator Ron Wyden, a critic of Bahrain government practices who joined Rep. Jim McGovern in introducing legislation to stop US weapons sales to Bahrain.
  • US Assistant Secretary of State Michael H. Posner, who has advocated for human rights in Bahrain, though within the limits of the Obama Administration’s diplomatic and military relationship with Bahrain’s government.
  • Representatives from key human rights groups in Washington DC.

It’s a critical time to act. The government of Bahrain has continued to crack down on those who peacefully engage in protest and criticism. While not every protester has been peaceful, many who are committed to the nonviolent expression of their political demands have faced significant penalties for doing so. It is time to put the focus back on human rights. This hearing is a helpful step in the right direction.

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