(This article is published in Salon.)
“It is very good to be in Bahrain—a close, valued, and longstanding partner of the United States,” remarked Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Bahraini capital Manama on Oct. 31.
Although a “close” U.S. ally, Bahrain is a tyrannical monarchy. It brutally represses pro-democracy activists and imprisons peaceful political opponents. Amnesty International reports the Bahraini government has for years continued to “stifle and punish dissent and to curtail freedoms of expression, association, and assembly.” The human rights organization furthermore notes that Bahraini authorities maintain “a large degree of impunity amid continuing reports of torture of detainees and the use of excessive force against protesters.”
Human Rights Watch has documented the same widespread violations of human rights, and warned that “American silence on the subject” makes political change “less likely, to the detriment of Bahraini citizens, global norms against torture, and American credibility as an advocate of human rights.”
Mere days before Blinken’s address in Manama, under strong criticism from these leading rights groups, the Bahraini monarchy imprisoned prominent activist Zainab al-Khawaja for insulting the king. This is not the first time al-Khawaja has been imprisoned for her peaceful human rights work, and her father is serving life in prison for leading pro-democracy protests in 2011.
Nowhere in his almost 3,000-word speech did Blinken mention Bahrain’s egregious human rights record. The Secretary did, however, thank the monarchy for its oil.