Human Rights First urged the U.S. government to link the proposed sale of F-16 fighter jets to Bahrain to the acquittal of jailed Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, who faces a verdict in court tomorrow. Last week Obama Administration officials indicated that the sale of 19 F-16 aircrafts to the regime would come with human rights requirements of the Bahraini government, but did not detail the specifics of these conditions.
“The United States should publicly spell out the strings attached to the F-16 sales so that the Bahraini regime has no doubt what is expected and the international community can hold Bahrain accountable for meeting the requirements. The first condition should be an acquittal for Rajab tomorrow and the dropping of all charges against him,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley. “They should also include the release of other specifically-named prisoners, the reinstatement of banned opposition and civil society organizations, and an end to the targeting human rights activists.”
Rajab, a prominent critic of the Bahraini regime’s repression, was arrested in June and charged with a series of free speech-related offenses, including “insulting a neighboring country.” From prison last month, Rajab wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times describing how he had met Secretary of State John Kerry earlier this year. “I would like to ask Mr. Kerry now: Is this the kind of ally America wants? The kind that punishes its people for thinking, that prevents its citizens from exercising their basic rights?” wrote Rajab. After the article appeared he was further charged with undermining the kingdom’s prestige.
The State Department called for his immediate release following the publication of the opinion piece, but he remains in prison. Rajab faces more than ten years in prison if convicted.
“The outcome of tomorrow’s verdict is an immediate test of the strings attached to this deal,” said Dooley. “The U.S. government has publicly called for Rajab’s release, and the court decision will be a telling indication on whether linking F-16 sales to real human rights reform is going to work.”
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