After more than a year of harsh repression and violence in Bahrain, the Sunni dictatorship’s response to the youth’s protest movement is still generating a “human rights crisis,” according to Amnesty International.
“The authorities are trying to portray the country as being on the road to reform but we continue to receive reports of torture and use of unnecessary and excessive force against protests,” said Amnesty’s Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
Shiite Bahrainis – who make up about 70 percent of the population in the Gulf monarchy ruled by Sunnis – have been protesting for democratic reforms for over a year. The regime’s response was initially bloody, killing dozens of unarmed protesters in February 2011 when security forces shot at them with live rounds.
Since then, and after considerable international pressure, the government response has been relegated to tear gas, severe beatings, systematic torture, and widespread repression and intimidation. And the protest movement has maintained its strength, resorting to Molotov cocktails, rock-throwing, and attempted attacks on police.
Amnesty’s report documents the torture of an 18-year-old student, Hassan ‘Oun, who was arrested in January and the deaths of a 14-year-old boy and an 81-year-old woman after tear gas was fired into their homes.
But the Obama administration has been supportive of the regime’s stubborn repression throughout. Bahrain hosts the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet and is considered by Washington as a geopolitical asset in the strategically important Persian Gulf, also serving as a bulwark against Shiite Iran.
Over $92 million in aid has been sent since Obama’s inauguration and another $22.4 million slated for 2012 and 2013. The Obama administration has quietly moved forward with a new package of arms sales to the regime in Bahrain, after international pressure forced them to delay its planned $53 million arms sale. Using legal loopholes, they moved forward with the new sales without notifying the public.