EU must pressure Bahrain to free prisoners of conscience
(Brussels, 1 July 2013) As officials from the EU and the Gulf States meet today in Bahrain for their annual ministerial meeting, Amnesty International is urging the EU to call publicly for the immediate release of all prisoners of conscience. The meeting is being held just a few kilometres away from the jail where prisoners of conscience, including prominent opposition leaders and human rights activists, are being held.
While the EU pledged to raise human rights concerns at all bilateral meetings, the issue of human rights violations is neither on the agenda of this ministerial meeting with the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC) nor properly addressed in EU statements.
“Bahrain is engulfed in a human rights crisis: the opposition is jailed, protests are repressed, torture is rife and impunity rampant. Yet, the Bahraini authorities prefer to invest in public relations rather than address their abysmal human rights record,” said Nicolas Beger, Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office.
“It would be a blow to many Bahrainis if EU officials were to visit Bahrain and not publicly call for the release of prisoners of conscience. Following a recent visit to Bahrain of the European Union Special Representative for human rights, the EU must not continue with business as usual and should seize this opportunity to press Bahrain on its human rights record”
At least 20 prisoners of conscience are still behind bars in Bahrain two years after the 2011 peaceful anti-government protests were brutally suppressed. These include 13 prominent opposition leaders such as Shaikh Hassan Meshaima, Shaikh Abdelwahab Hussain, Dr Abdeljalil al-Singace, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, Ebrahim Sharif and Mahdi Abu Deeb as well as Nabeel Rajab, the well-known human rights defender. Some of them have been detained for life, solely for leading or calling for peaceful anti-government protests, including via social media.
Many of the prisoners of conscience were allegedly tortured in the first weeks of arrests. Some have been denied proper medical care and visits by their families and lawyers because of their refusal to wear prison uniforms which they regard as admission of guilt.
Human rights violations have largely remained unpunished and impunity prevails in the country. Of 96 alleged official investigations into torture and deaths of protestors and detainees around the time of the 2011 protests, 46 cases have been dismissed due to lack of evidence, or because the death was considered to have been caused by “an act of legitimate self defence”.
No Bahraini senior security or army officer has been brought to justice. Only a handful of low-ranking security officers mostly of foreign origin, have been tried. Most were given lenient sentences and are free pending appeals.
The government regularly claims it is “still undergoing major reforms”. Last April, the Gulf kingdom cancelled a planned visit by the United Nations’ torture expert for a second time. The Bahraini Human Rights Minister defended this decision by arguing that the visit could potentially negatively impact the ongoing political dialogue. At the last session of the UN Human Rights Council, 43 states criticised continuing human rights violations in Bahrain.
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