Bahrain has long denied the allegations against Prince Nasser bin Hamad al-Khalifa but as his prominence has risen in recent years, so have the lingering memories of the 2011 demonstrations, as a crackdown on dissent continues.
Rights group Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain sent letters to the US State Department and Defence Department over their concerns about Prince Nasser. They urged for a suspension of his visa and any defence cooperation with him.
In September, the prince was appointed to Bahrain’s Supreme Defence Council, the country’s highest military authority.
“We are gravely concerned by the US government’s open association with Bahraini military officials like Sheikh Nasser, whose leading role in defence procurement and record of malfeasance render him a particularly high risk for further corruption and abuse,” wrote Husain Abdulla, the executive director of Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain.
The State Department called Bahrain “an important US partner.”
“Our relationship is built on common interests, including joint efforts to counter terrorism and violent extremism, promote regional security and confront the threat from Iran,” the State Department said, without discussing the allegations contained in the letter.
The island kingdom remains a crucial part of American military strategy in the Persian Gulf by hosting the US Navy’s 5th Fleet.
The Trump administration also has approved a multibillion-dollar sale of F-16 fighter jets to Bahrain without the human rights conditions imposed by the State Department under then President Barack Obama.
Bahrain’s Shia majority and others demonstrated in 2011 to ask the island’s Sunni rulers for more political freedoms. Bahrain put down the protests with the help of Saudi and Emirati forces.
For more than a year, Bahrain has been targeting journalists, activists, Shia religious leaders and political parties. Some activists have escaped into exile while others have been imprisoned.