US State Dept. Rejects Decision to Shut Down Al-Wefaq, Stresses It’s a Peaceful Political Group

2016-06-16 - 9:09 p

Bahrain Mirror: The Bahraini government's decision to close the main opposition political group in the country, Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, was the highlight of the daily press briefing on Tuesday (June 14, 2016).

The State Department issued a statement at the opening of the briefing on the issue, which was the first to be discussed, taking up over 20 minutes of questions.

Spokesperson John Kirby said that the State Department is not at a point "where it does anybody any good to speak to specific consequences or repercussions," adding that it's not useful to get into consequences at this point.

"It's not about a threat of some sort of specific consequence here. It's about a good friend expressing a very deep and genuine concern to another good friend," Kirby explained.

In response to a question, Kirby stressed that there won't be a period of time that is acceptable to the US Government for Al-Wefaq to be closed or for any opposition political entity in Bahrain.

"We believe that this opposition group represents, in its being, opposition political views peacefully expressed," he further stated.

Concerning the Bahraini government's alleged progress, one reporter asked what this progress the State Department is speaking of- amid opposition party shutdown, independent Center of Human Rights president or head arrested, pressure on independent media.

Kirby attempted to clarify what the progress he had mentioned previously is by mentioning that a number of new institutions were created in the Bahrain government that have helped improve oversight and accountability over the security institution; however stressing that more work needs to be done.

The Bahrain Government has said that Al-Wefaq Society was promoting the Iranian regime ideology, or Wilayat al-Faqih ideology. In this case, do you support their decision?, another journalist asked.

"Again, I'm going to let them speak to why they made the decision. We believe that this opposition group represents, in its being, opposition political views peacefully expressed. And we continue to believe in freedom of expression there and everywhere, and we don't think this is in Bahrain's interest ultimately, this decision. We don't think it's in their interest," replied Kirby.

US State Secretary was very candid with Bahrain

The spokesperson was further asked about the US Secretary of State John Kerry's latest visit to Bahrain and why he "didn't raise any of these issues in-depth when he visited Bahrain," such as the lack of implementation on its human rights reforms, adding that "he made very sparing reference, but didn't really address crackdown on civil society, crackdown on independent press."

Kirby; however, defended Kerry and stressed that he absolutely raised US concerns over the human rights situation in Bahrain when he was there, noting that because the US has such a close relationship with Bahrain, they "can have those kinds of very frank discussions." Kirby also assured that having been in the room for the meetings himself, "the Secretary was very, very candid about it."

High Level Communications

Asked whether other senior State Department officials had spoken to Bahraini officials about the US administration's dismay at this latest court ruling, Kirby said that the US has raised concerns about this decision at various levels- at high levels, various and high levels at the State Department, he said.

Criticism of US Role in Bahrain

"How do you address critics who argue that the United States - the value that the United States places on its strategic relationship with Bahrain and the basing of the Fifth Fleet there means that it acquiesces in human rights violations and the suppression of democratic expression there?" a reporter asked.

"Well, I would tell such a critic to go look at our Human Rights Report, where we lay out our concerns very openly and honestly right there online. I would also tell that critic to take a look at some of the decisions we made post-2011 to withhold some security assistance material, which, when you think about, [...] that decision alone I think speaks volumes about the fact that we're not bashful about being clear and firm about our concerns on the human rights front, because that is where some of the restrictions in that sector were placed," he noted, attempting to justify the US stance on Bahrain.

"But if it wasn't for such a strong partnership and such a strong bilateral relationship, I wouldn't have felt quite as free and easy as I did today in bringing this up right at the top of the briefing - rather than wait to be asked about this decision," he further stressed.

Do they not Care?

Meanwhile another question was raised, asking "if Kerry wasn't bashful in his meetings and the relationship is so strong, how do you explain that they're doing exactly what you say they shouldn't be doing? Did they not get it? Are they just not intelligent enough to see it or do they not care what you say?"

"I think that's a great question for officials in Bahrain. I can't speak for motivation here. They have to speak for the reasons - they have to speak to the reasons for the decisions that they've made. What I can speak for is our view of the decision, which we obviously don't approve of," he said.

Yet Al-Wefaq was shut down!

Kirby was then showered with questions about the fact that the US has provided Bahrain with protection for over decades, not only years, "to basically say in public what you say in private." "You say that in private you raise all these issues, but yet in the press conference you're not saying that," one reporter asked.

"This decision seems to be stepping back from that, certainly not in keeping with the kind of progress we know they can make. And so we're going to continue to urge them to do the right thing in this regard and to reverse this decision. And I just think it's way too premature at this point to try to talk about repercussions and consequences as a result of any reluctance on their part to do that, to overturn it," said Kirby.

Kirby later stated that Bahrain very much understands US concerns about human rights issues, to be interrupted by a reporter who said: "And yet they went ahead and shut down Al-Wefaq."

Arabic Version


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