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Ahmed Shihab-Eldin

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Bahrain's PR Offensive: Buying Media, Burying Democracy (VIDEO)

Posted: 09/07/2012 8:50 pm

Just as the fighting heats up once again between government forces and protesters in Bahrain, a virtual brawl nearly broke out between the daughter of a human rights activist that was imprisoned and tortured in Bahrain, and government representatives on HuffPost Live.

Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy's fifth fleet, and yet I'm certain millions of Americans have never even heard of the small island country floating between Saudi Arabia and Iran, where about 40 percent of all the world's oil flows through.


Bahrain, ruled by a Sunni minority, is the Arab world's forgotten revolution. Despite the government's use of torture and its brutal crushing of the popular uprising, the Obama administration continues to sign weapon deals and the Ryan-sponsored trade agreement.

In our segment Friday, Maryam Al Khawaja, the daughter of Abdulhadi Al Khawaja -- who was arrested on April 9, 2011 -- took on a doctor who tended to her father, and who she accused of being complicit in his torture.

Despite repeated attempts by the government to blame the protest movement on Iran, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry found no connection to Iran, but did find brutal police abuses and systematic torture, even of children.

To counter the voices of human rights activists, doctors, lawyers and dissidents that mobilized online, share videos and photos documenting police abuses, the government has paid millions to American, British and other PR firms like Qorvis with the aim of cleaning up its image abroad -- namely, here in America.

The unrest has since fallen from the front page of newspapers and web sites around the world, as these stories often do. While the death toll is nowhere near Syria's 20,000 count, Human Rights Watch and other rights groups on the ground continue to report egregious violations of fair trial rights and police abuses. Just this Friday, police fired tear gas and stun grenades at dozens of anti-government protesters who defied a ban on unauthorized demonstrations, marching through the capital.

As U.S.-made tear gas canisters continue to rain down on Bahrain, the Obama Administration has largely stood by the government, continuing to sell arms at record levels to Bahrain and its Saudi allies.

At the DNC, Obama said, "The historic change sweeping the Arab World must be defined not by the iron fist of a dictator or hate of extremists" -- and yet our weapons sales tripled in 2011 to a record high, driven by arms sales to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

Joining me on HuffPost Live to discuss whether Bahrain's public relations offensive is working were Brian Dooley, of Human Rights First; Fahad al-Binali, a spokesperson for the Bahrain International Affairs Authority; Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists; Justin Elliott, a reporter at ProPublica; Leah McElrath, a social media activist; Maryam Al-Khawaja, acting President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights; and Mohammed Al-Muharraqi, a surgeon working in Bahrain.

Watch the full segment below:

 

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