May 24, 2018 / 6:01 PM / 7 months ago

Human Rights Watch calls on U.S. to reject planned arms sales to Bahrain

RIYADH (Reuters) - Human Rights Watch called on the United States to reject two planned arms sales, totaling nearly $1 billion, to Bahrain in light of the Gulf country’s “dismal record on human rights”, the rights group said on Thursday in a statement.

Last week, the U.S. approved a possible sale to Bahrain of 3,000 bomb bodies worth an estimated $45 million. In April, the State Department approved a possible sale of attack helicopters worth an estimated $911 million.

“These two weapons sales make clear that the Trump administration intends nothing short of a free pass on human rights for Bahrain,” said Sarah Margon, Washington director at Human Rights Watch.

A close U.S. and British ally, Sunni Muslim-ruled Bahrain has cracked down on the opposition, hailing mostly from the Shi’ite Muslim majority, since it crushed pro-democracy demonstrations they led in 2011.

Rights groups have accused authorities of seeking to stamp out dissent. The government says the opposition is linked to militants backed by their arch-enemy Iran who have carried out years of deadly bombing and shooting attacks on security forces.

“In the past year, Bahrain has sharpened its crackdown on activists, lawyers, and journalists,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

“It has arbitrarily revoked a record number of citizenships of nationals, carried out unfair trials of civilians in military courts, and harassed, intimidated, imprisoned, and prosecuted rights defenders and their family members.”

Last week, a court in Bahrain revoked the citizenship of 115 people and gave 53 of them life sentences on terrorism charges in one of the most severe rulings yet in the Gulf island kingdom.

Bahrain is also a member of the U.S.-backed Saudi-led military coalition that intervened in Yemen in 2015 to try to restore Hadi’s government, toppled by the Iran-aligned Houthi movement.

Yemen is grappling with one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. The war has killed more than 10,000 people, displaced three million, triggered a cholera outbreak and pushed the impoverished country to the verge of starvation, according to the United Nations.

Reporting by Sarah Dadouch; Editing by Noah Browning and Matthew Mpoke Bigg

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