by Marian Wang ProPublica,
At least 30 people have died in Bahrain , protesters and medical workers are being put on trial, and prominent opposition politicians are being arrestedâ€”but the United States has yet to toughen its talk or impose sanctions on its Gulf ally.
Bahrain, a predominantly Shiite country ruled by a Sunni monarchy, plays host to the U.S. Navyâ€™s Fifth Fleet. McClatchy reports today that the government has bulldozed dozens of Shiite mosques . Shiite women and girls have also been detained and abused , according to McClatchy. The State Department has said little about these matters publicly, except to tell McClatchy itâ€™s â€œconcerned by the destruction of religious sitesâ€ and is â€œextremely troubled by reports of ongoing human rights abusesâ€ in Bahrain.
The Bahraini government announced last week it would charge nearly 50 doctors and nurses for treating injured pro-democracy protesters . Weâ€™d previously noted the governmentâ€™s detention of medical workers  along with protesters, activists and journalists.
Last month Bahrain sentenced four protesters to death by firing squadâ€”drawing protests from human rights groups and more statements of concern  from the United States. The United States has repeatedly issued statements for months calling for the Bahraini government to engage in political dialogue rather than use force, but it has not threatened sanctions or signaled any changes in the close ties between the two countries.
As we noted last month , Zainab Alkhawaja, daughter of a missing Bahraini human rights activist, announced she was going on a hunger strike in early April in an open letter to President Barack Obama. The move by was intended to pressure the United States to stop backing the Bahraini government. By April 20, she ended the hunger strike  because her health was deteriorating, her mother wrote in a blog post.
State Department Democracy Fellow gets little backing from State Department
In February, we noted that when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made her first visit to Bahrain in December, she was asked a little-noticed question  about Bahrainâ€™s decline in the areas of democracy and human rights. The question, from then-Bahraini parliament member Matar Ibrahim Matar, was upstaged in the U.S. media by another question about whether Clinton would run again for president.
Matar was upstaged again last week  when news of his arrestâ€”by armed, masked menâ€”was buried by news of Osama bin Ladenâ€™s death. In an opinion column in the Washington Post, freelance writer Michael Bronner and Rutgers Law School dean John Farmer Jr. noted that Matar in fact received training on how to organize and advance the cause of democracy as part of a State Department fellowship :
In 2008, he traveled here under the State Departmentâ€™s Leaders for Democracy Fellowship Program , the flagship of President George W. Bushâ€™s Middle East Partnership Initiative. The program seeks to impart practical organizing tools and a deeper understanding of democracy to emerging civic leaders.
In a meeting with then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Matar raised his views about representative democracy in Bahrain and his concern that Washington has given the kingdomâ€™s ruling family a pass in exchange for hosting the U.S. Navyâ€™s 5th Fleetâ€™s large base that supports the war in Afghanistan. After the program ended, Matar returned home and focused on getting elected to Bahrainâ€™s parliament.
Matarâ€”along with several other politicians from the moderate, mainly Shia opposition partyâ€”recently resigned from the Bahraini parliament in protest.
Muted State Department response
The State Department has "urged," "called on," and "remained deeply concerned  and troubled" by the actions of the Bahraini government. Asked last week by a reporter whether the United States has done anything beyond give verbal criticism, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that the department had dispatched an official to Bahrain several times in hopes of working â€œwith both the government and the opposition to bridge some of these gaps.â€ His exact remarks :
QUESTION: They have done things that youâ€™ve criticized other countries for doing. Has the U.S. done anything beyond verbally criticize them? Have you raised the prospect of sanctions, or â€“ sorry â€“
MR. TONER: Well, again â€“ I didnâ€™t mean to cut you off, but Assistant Secretary Feltmanâ€™s made several trips out there, and â€“
QUESTION: I know. But, I mean, beyond saying we donâ€™t like what youâ€™re doing, have you taken any action? Have I missed something, Iâ€™m wondering.
MR. TONER: I mean, look â€“ I mean, itâ€™s important that our assistant secretary has spent a significant amount of time out there trying to work with both the government and the opposition to bridge some of these gaps, but also to make very clear to the government that thereâ€™s no â€“ as weâ€™ve said multiple times, thereâ€™s no security solution to this and that they need to take steps to address the legitimate concerns of their people.
The muted reaction from the United States hasnâ€™t gone unnoticed in Bahrain. Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, told Reuters  that the West is â€œlosing the hearts and minds of the democrats in Bahrain.â€
The United Statesâ€™ soft touch on Bahrain, meanwhile, has stood in sharp contrast with its tough talk against the government of Syria, which has also been arresting and shooting protesters. Last week, the White House issued a statement saying, â€œWe strongly condemn and deplore  the Syrian governmentâ€™s use of violence and mass arrests." Secretary of State Clinton issued a similar statement, condeming "in the strongest terms " the actions of the Syrian government. In late April, President Obama signed an executive order imposing targeted sanctions  against Syria.
The White House has said that unless Syria changes its approach, it willâ€”along with its international partnersâ€”â€œtake additional steps to make clear our strong opposition to the Syrian governmentâ€™s treatment of its people.â€ No such promises have been made regarding Bahrain.
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