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Concern Over Bahrain Human Rights

Thousands chant anti-government slogans as they march during a funeral procession for Sayed Hameed Mahfoodh, 61, whom relatives allege was killed by police, in the western Shiite Muslim village of Saar, Bahrain, April 6, 2011

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights estimates that more than 1000 people have been detained in the crackdown

The United States remains concerned over the human rights situation in Bahrain. For the past two months the government there has imposed a crackdown on a protest movement that was among the first to spring up after Egyptians drove Hosni Mubarak from power. The crackdown in Bahrain has included bulldozing unlicensed Shi’a mosques, arresting mainstream opposition politicians, and almost closing down the country's main opposition newspaper. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights estimates that more than 1000 people have been detained in the crackdown, however, the government began to release some individuals.

Bahrain is a majority Shi’a country ruled by a 200-year-old Sunni monarchy. The Shi’a who comprise 60-70 percent of the population, and some moderate Sunnis demanded reforms during protests in February and March. Most Shi’a are excluded from top government and security posts.

The United States believes that the Shiite political opposition has legitimate concerns that the government of Bahrain should address. As U.S. State Department spokesman Michael Toner said, "We believe that there is a way forward in Bahrain. . .We would urge the Bahrain government to seek that way forward. . . .There's not a security solution to its problems. It needs to engage in a dialogue with the opposition. . .and address the legitimate aspirations of its people."

In the meantime, the Bahraini government continues to try in special security courts opposition leaders and human rights activists, including moderate political figures such as Ibrahim Sharif, a key leader in the country's political opposition. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called the human rights situation in Bahrain "dire"." She said Bahrain's secret trials of protesters, which led to death sentences for four accused in the death of police officers during the recent protests, were "illegal and absolutely unacceptable" and she spoke of reports of "severe torture" of human rights defenders currently in detention.

The United States, said spokesman Toner, remains "very concerned by all of these reports of human rights abuses" in Bahrain. "We've been quite clear in our message," he said, "that there is no security solution to what's going on in Bahrain at the moment. And we encourage dialogue, and we also would ask that the Bahraini government, in any actions it takes against individuals, that it be done in a transparent manner in accordance with international human rights obligations."