Gulf states

Bahrain sentences rights defender to two years

Amnesty International on July 19 condemned Bahrain's sentencing of a human rights defender. Nabeel Rajab was originally arrested in June 2016 after he tweeted about alleged torture in a Bahrani prison. A Bahrani court ordered his release in December 2016, but shortly after his release he was arrested on the current charges. Rajab was sentenced to two years in prison for political opinions he expressed during interviews in 2015 and 2016. Salil Shetty, Amnesty's secretary general, condemned the conviction as a "flagrant violation of human rights, and an alarming sign that the Bahraini authorities will go to any length to silence criticism." Rajab still faces numerous similar charges in cases expected to resume in August.

Iran: ISIS attack escalates Persian Gulf tensions

ISIS claimed responsibility for simultaneous attacks on Iran's Majlis (parliament) and the mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini on June 7, through a statement from the official Islamic State news agency Amaq. At least 12 are reported dead at the Majlis, and several wounded at the mausoleum. Reports indicate four gunmen, disguised as women, entered the visitors' hall of the Majlis building and opened fire, while a suicide-bomber pre-positioned inside the building blew himself up. Two other suicide-bombers meanwhile detonated at the Khomeini shrine. Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards accused Saudi Arabia and the US of being behind the attacks. "This terrorist action, coming one week after the meeting of the president of the United States with the leader of one of the region's reactionary governments...shows they are involved in this savage action," it said in a statement.

Qatar crisis places US regional policing in pickle

In a strange imbroglio, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Yemen and the Maldives on June 5 all announced that they are breaking off diplomatic relations with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism. All but Egypt also cut off all travel links with the country. The Saudi statement accused Qatar of "adopting various terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilizing the region including the Muslim Brotherhood Group, Daesh (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda, " and of "supporting the activities of Iranian-backed terrorist groups" in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Days earlier, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain all blocked Al Jazeera and other Qatar-based news websites after Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani was quoted as saying "There is no reason behind Arabs' hostility to Iran"—an obvious reference to the Saudis and Bahrain. Qatar quickly responded that the comment had been "fabricated" when hackers took control of the official Qatar News Agency website (which appears to still be down, although the QNA Twitter account is up). (BBC NewsAl Jazeera, May 5; BBC News, Al Jazeera, May 25)

UN to Bahrain: investigate protester deaths

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein on June 2 called on the government of Bahrain to investigate the deaths of five protesters that occurred during a security operation last month. The protesters were killed and 286 individuals were arrested when security forces were conducting an operation against a sit-in held by supporters of Sheikh Isa Qassem, the highest Shi'ite authority in Bahrain, in his home village of al-Diraz. Those who died were buried without their families' consent and without customary funeral traditions, an act which the High Commissioner called "disturbing." Al Hussein also called for the release of those being detained for "peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly," and for them to be "treated with full respect for their rights, including due process."

Bahrain: 'total suppression' of human rights

A Bahrain court on May 31 dissolved the major opposition political party, an act that Amnesty International said is a step toward the "total suppression of human rights" in the Persian Gulf monarchy. The National Democratic Action Society (Wa'ad) was ordered dissolved after Bahrain's Ministry of Justice accused the group of "advocating violence, supporting terrorism and incitement to encourage crimes and lawlessness." Amnesty called the allegations against Wa'ad "baseless and absurd." Wa'ad had criticized the Bahraini constitution in February, and condemned the execution of three men in January. Wa'ad was the last major opposition party in Bahrain, although two smaller opposition groups still exist in the country.

Emir of Kuwait dissolves parliament

The Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, issued a decree to dissolve the parliament on Oct. 16. The decision was made due to "mounting security challenges as well as volatile regional developments." As of late, tension has been rising between the government and parliament, as parliament members sought to question government leaders regarding a decision to increase petrol prices and other alleged financial and administrative violations. Kuwait has been under increasing pressure as global oil prices have dropped, forcing the country to cut back on numerous subsidies, causing civil unrest. In addition, Kuwait has faced threats of attack by ISIS.

Yemen: Saudis bomb anti-bombing demonstration

It requires a really special kind of cynicism to pull this one off—the kind born of complete impunity, when the world gives you a blank check to carry out any kind of atrocity. Saudi fighter jets on Aug. 21 carried out air-strikes on a peaceful rally in Yemen's capital Sanaa that had been called to protest Saudi air-strikes. Most recent accounts put the death toll at three, but it seems very likely to rise. The protesters were mostly armed, and began firing on the warplanes with their AK-47s after the air-strikes, in a useless act of defiance. The rally was called after Doctors Without Borders (MSF) withdrew its staff from six Yemen hospitals in response to a Saudi sir-strike on a hospital that left 19 people dead in the northern province of Hajja. It was the fourth health facility supported by MSF to be hit by Saudi-led coalition air-strikes over the course of the war, now in its 17th month. The US continues to have military advisors directly supporting the Saudis' air war in Yemen. This week, their number was cut from about 45 to five, although US officials said this was not due to concern over civilian casualties. (Nine News, Australia, Aug. 21; BBC News, Aug. 20; NYT, Aug. 18)

US transfers 15 Guantánamo detainees to UAE

The US Department of Defense on Aug. 15 announced the transfer  of 15 Guantánamo detainees to the United Arab Emirates. Twelve of the detainees were from Yemen, and the other three were from Afghanistan. Six of the detainees had been approved for release since 2009, and the others were cleared for release more recently. Thirteen of the detainees had never faced any charges, and two of the Afghan detainees had their military commission charges drops. This marks the largest single detainee transfer so far, as the Obama administration works toward its goal of shuttering the detention center. After these transfers, there are 61 detainees remaining at Guantánamo.