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Fri 10 Jul 2015 02:07 AM

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Rights group slams US move to relax Bahrain arms sales

Human Rights Watch says decision to lift restrictions are based on 'seriously flawed assessment of human rights situation'

Rights group slams US move to relax Bahrain arms sales
US President Barack Obama welcomes Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa to the White House in Washington, DC. (Getty Images)

An international human rights group has critised the Obama administration’s announcement that it will lift restrictions on arms sales to Bahrain.

Human Rights Watch said in a statement that the recent decision is based on "a seriously flawed assessment of Bahrain’s human rights situation".

It said the US decision comes less than two weeks after a Bahrain court sentenced the country’s highest-profile opposition figure, Sheikh Ali Salman, to four years in jail solely for public remarks criticising the government.

Salman is the secretary general of Al Wifaq, the country’s largest legally recognised opposition political society.

“After making the right call to press for the release of high-profile prisoners, the Obama administration’s decision to resume arms sales will only encourage Bahraini authorities’ unrelenting repression,” said Sarah Margon, Washington director.

“This is a clear case of wrong actions speaking louder than the right words. The Bahrainis needed to help resolve the country’s acute crisis are languishing in jail.”

In September 2011, the United States delayed a $53 million arms sale to Bahrain after human rights groups and some members of Congress sharply criticised the sale following the Bahraini authorities’ fierce repression of mainly peaceful mass demonstrations earlier in the year.

In January 2012, the State Department announced that it intended to go forward with the sale of approximately $1 million of equipment to Bahrain while maintaining “a pause on most security assistance for Bahrain pending further progress on reform.”

In its June 29 announcement, the State Department acknowledged that the human rights situation in Bahrain is not “adequate", but said Bahrain “has made some meaningful progress on human rights reforms".

The statement also cited the release of some unnamed prisoners charged with crimes related to their political association and expression as evidence of steps that “contribute to an environment more conducive to reconciliation and progress".

The statement referred to Bahrain’s status as “an important and long-standing ally on regional security issues” and its support for the US campaign against the extremist armed group ISIL. The US maintains a large naval base in Bahrain, home port to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet.

“Whatever the real reasons for reviving these arms sales, it’s clear that the decision has not been taken in the interest of the people of Bahrain,” Margon said. “The prospect of reform and human rights improvements are now further away than ever.”