Senators press State Department to rethink Bahrain aid

Washington (CNN)A bipartisan group of senators wants the State Department to reconsider military aid to Bahrain following a crackdown on political opposition and a deterioration of human rights.

In a letter addressed to Secretary of State John Kerry, the senators request that the State Department rethink arms sales to the key Gulf ally if Bahrain's leadership cannot protect the rights freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, according to a copy of the letter obtained by CNN.
The letter, from Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Democratic Sens. Chris Murphy, Ron Wyden and Tim Kaine, follows a June 21 State Department report to Congress critical of Bahrain.
    The "lack of due process and the criminalization of the exercise of free expression continue to undermine the progress Bahrain has made since 2011," according to State Department spokesman John Kirby.
    The State Department has not responded to specific questions on the issue of military aid to Bahrain following the report's publication, but Kirby said after the report came out that, "You don't have to look much farther back in history to see that we aren't afraid to make decisions in respect to, in this last case, with foreign military sales, when and if we feel it is responsible to do that."
    Earlier this month, a Bahrain court suspended the main Shiite opposition party, al-Wefaq, and froze its assets after more than doubling the sentencing of the party's secretary general, Ali Salman, to nine years in prison for "promoting forceful change of the political regime," among other charges.
    Kirby urged the Bahraini officials "to reconsider" the suspension of al-Wefaq and said Washington was "deeply troubled."
    The day before Bahrain's Justice Ministry suspended al-Wefaq, whom the government accused of working "to create a new generation that carries a spirit of hatred," the official Bahrain News Agency (BNA) reported, prominent human rights activist Nabeel Rajab was arrested in a raid on his home. Rajab, the founder of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, had been jailed in 2012 for participating in public rallies and released two years later.
    Additionally, the Sunni-led monarchy has recently revoked the citizenship of the country's most prominent Shiite religious leader, Sheikh Isa Qassim, leaving him vulnerable to deportation.
    The State Department condemned "withdrawing the nationality of its citizens arbitrarily" and warned the case of Qassim "will further divert Bahrainis from the path of reform and reconciliation," according to a statement.