Bahrain should stop prosecuting "all persons accused of offenses involving political expression," the United States’ chief human rights envoy said Thursday.
The Persian Gulf island nation has been roiled by protests seeking greater democracy and more voice for Shiite Muslims in the Sunni Muslim monarchy. Human rights groups say hundreds of demonstrators were given excessive and unfair sentences in special military courts last year.
Bahrain is a sensitive spot for the United States: It has long been an ally against Iran, but police crackdowns there have spurred charges that the U.S. has a double standard on human rights.
Assistant Secretary of State Michael H. Posner praised Bahraini King Hamed ibn Isa Khalifa for sparking an independent investigation of alleged human rights violations, which culminated in a November report that found government forces tortured protesters. It recommended dropping charges against demonstrators.
Posner said Bahrain still needed to drop those charges. He also expressed concerns about police using excessive force, including "widespread and sometimes indiscriminate use of tear gas."
But Posner also condemned protesters for attacking police with Molotov cocktails and urged them to eschew violence next week, the one-year anniversary of the protests. Bahrain has turned down several prominent journalists for visas to report on the anniversary, feeding fears of more repression.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Video: Assistant Secretary of State Michael H. Posner briefs the media in Bahrain. Credit: U.S. Embassy in Bahrain