International Parliamentarians’ Assembly held in Bahrain turns into a “PR disaster” amidst calls for political prisoners’ release
- The Inter-Parliamentary Union’s (IPU) 146th assembly, which is taking place in Sakhir, Bahrain, from 11 to 15 March 2023, has turned into a PR disaster for the host state, exposing its imprisonment of political prisoners and the revocation of visas for Human Rights Watch researches, the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) and the Free Alkhawaja Campaign stated today.
- MPs representing multiple countries took to the stage to speak out about the imprisonment of political prisoners with a focus on the case of Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja, dual Bahraini-Danish citizen.
- Oral interventions criticising Bahrain’s human rights record came from MP in delegations hailing from Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, Iceland, the Netherlands, Finland and Norway.
- The calls for his release received a fierce response from the spokesperson of the Bahraini delegation, Jamal Fakhro, who justified Al-Khawaja’s ongoing imprisonment and asked the delegates not to interfere in internal affairs. He further denied that Mr Al-Khawaja was tortured and wrongly stated that if he had been tortured, his case would have been overseen by Bahraini oversight bodies, such as the Ministry of Interior Ombudsman and the Special Investigation Unit.
- The inaccuracy and weakness of this statement is belayed by the fact that these oversight bodies were only created in 2012, one year after Mr Al-Khawaja’s alleged torture.
- The allegation of Mr Al-Khawaja’s torture were documented by the government-comissioned Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry report (BICI) report in November 2011, on page 438:
- The report documented that Al-Khawaja was subjected to torture and sexually assaulted by security forces in 2011, stating that “Immediately after the arrest, the detainee received a hard blow to the side of his face, which broke his jaw”, “Security personnel in the hospital threatened him with sexual abuse and execution” and threatened his family, and “spent two months in solitary confinement in a small cell measuring approximately 2.5m x 2m” and that “masked guards” beat him “routinely” and sexually assaulted him, amongst other serious violations.
Maryam Al Khawaja commented: “It is vindicating to see the support my father is receiving at the IPU conference from MPs from multiple countries, as he completes 12 years of his life sentence which was deemed arbitrary by the United Nations. He continues to endure dire prison conditions and systematic denial of adequate medical treatment, like so many other Bahraini political prisoners. It is appalling to see the Bahraini delegation spokesperson telling blatant lies about the human rights situation in Bahrain as well as my father’s condition by denying the fact that he was tortured – a fact documented by the regime’s own fact finding commission. His citing of institutions set up a year after my father’s imprisonment, and which have yet to investigate my fathers torture, lays bare Bahrain’s transparent attempt to cover up the truth.”
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) commented: “This turned out to be a PR disaster for the Bahraini regime. By hosting an international conference, they thought they could launder their image on the global stage, and sanitise their human rights record which is steeped in appalling violations and the widespread imprisonment of their citizens who demand democracy. The dictatorship’s decision to revoke the visas of Human Rights Watch researchers, to prevent them from observing this assembly, further exposes that their slogan of “promoting peaceful coexistence and inclusive societies” is nothing but a lie”.
Olive Moore, Interim Director of Front Line Defenders commented: “For Bahrain to host a global conference of parliamentarians working to strengthen the rule of law whilst simultaneously steamrolling over the human rights of its own citizens, is an utter farce. We salute the parliamentarians who spoke out to challenge this irony and call for the release of Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja and all human rights defenders arbitrarily imprisoned in Bahrain.”
Niku Jafarnia, Bahrain and Yemen researcher at Human Rights Watch commented: “The IPU’s senior leadership, including its president, has remained silent while the hosts of this year’s IPU Assembly, Bahrain’s government, arrest opposition activists, keep rights defenders like Abdulhadi al-Khawaja imprisoned, and even revoke visas from international rights groups like Human Rights Watch. The IPU leadership’s silence has only served to reinforce Bahrain’s whitewashing of human rights abuses, and has made a mockery of their slogan of ‘For democracy. For everyone.’ ”