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Bahrain orders US official to leave after meeting opposition group

A US official has been declared persona non grata by Bahrain, after meeting with the country's main opposition group al-Wefaq
The Pearl Roundabout was the symbol of Bahrain's uprising until it was bulldozed by authorities (AFP)

Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry released a statement on Monday saying a top American official has been declared persona non grata and asked to leave the country immediately, a day after meeting with the country’s leading opposition group.

The Foreign Ministry statement said US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour Tom Malinowski was “unwelcome” in Bahrain and had “intervened flagrantly in Bahrain’s internal affairs and held meetings with a particular party to the detriment of others”.

“The Kingdom of Bahrain emphasises its close and robust relations with the United States and stresses the need that they are not affected by such negative issues that may mar their integrity and development in various fields,” the ministry said.

The statement said the American official had acted “in defiance of conventional diplomatic norms”, referencing recommendations passed by the country’s National Assembly in July 2013 to “reinforce national cohesion” in response to continuing protests led by the majority Shiite community.

Malinowski arrived in Bahrain on Sunday for a three day trip but was asked to leave early after meeting the country’s Shiite opposition group al-Wefaq. He was also due to meet leading human rights activist Nabeel Rajab and government officials.

Bahrain has been in the grip of an uprising against the monarchy for three years, which began in the capital Manama on 14 February 2011 when hundreds of thousands of people gathered at the Pearl Roundabout to call for democracy. Three days later, government forces broke up protest camps with teargas, birdshot and batons that left at least two dead and hundreds injured.

Since then activists say almost 100 protesters have died in the unrest, although the government disputes these figures and says 14 police officers have been killed in attacks on their forces. A national dialogue process between opposition representatives and the government has been stalled since January, due to sharp differences of opinion over the uprising and a failure to agree on a format and agenda for the talks.

Human rights groups responded to Monday’s foreign ministry statement with scorn, saying it indicated that the Bahraini government is not prepared to honestly engage in a reconciliation process.

“As one of the United States’ key allies, we are concerned over the Bahrain government’s treatment of Assistant Secretary Malinowski,” said Husain Abdulla, executive director of Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain, in an online statement.

“Malinowski’s deportation, which appears to be a result of meeting with various opposition figures and human rights activists, undermines any claims by the Bahraini government that they are serious about reconciliation in the country and creating the space necessary for reform to occur,” he added.

Since gaining independence from Britain in 1971 Bahrain has built close ties with the US and is home to their navy’s strategically vital Fifth Fleet. 

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