US rights group calls for ‘free and fair’ elections in Bahrain

Bahraini-American rights organisation says Gulf country is heading towards another ‘sham’ vote in November.

Bahrain women elections
'If the 2022 elections are as unfair as the 2018 elections, the US must begin to pivot away from Bahrain and seek out partners in the Middle East who share US values,' says executive director of Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain [File: Reuters]

A Bahraini-American rights group has called on Bahrain to release political prisoners and allow independent monitors to observe the country’s upcoming parliamentary elections in order to avoid a repeat of what it called a “sham” vote in 2018.

In a statement released on Wednesday, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) also urged Manama to remove restrictions on freedom of expression and refrain from imposing political conditions on who can run in the November elections.

“Conditions in Bahrain at the present time make free and fair elections impossible,” Husain Abdulla, the group’s executive director, said in the statement.

“Unless conditions improve quickly, the 2022 elections will again be a sham perpetrated by the Government of Bahrain on the Bahraini people and any facade of democracy in Bahrain will end.”

The call came two weeks after US President Joe Biden signed into law a funding bill that was accompanied by a statement (PDF) calling on the Department of State to produce a report detailing US “efforts made on behalf of political prisoners in Bahrain and the Government of Bahrain’s response”.

“The congressionally-mandated report is part of a larger effort to encourage the US State Department and other leading democracies to live up to the promises and rhetoric of the Biden Administration’s Summit for Democracy and to put pressure on anti-democratic regimes like the Government of Bahrain,” said Abdulla.

“If the 2022 elections are as unfair as the 2018 elections, the US must begin to pivot away from Bahrain and seek out partners in the Middle East who share US values.”

Bahrain is a constitutional monarchy in which the king acts as head of state and parliament enjoys limited legislative powers. Elections are held every four years to determine the 40-member Council of Representatives – the lower chamber of parliament. Forty members of the Shura Council, the other legislative body, are appointed by royal decree.

Activists and members of banned opposition parties had boycotted the 2018 election, dismissing it as a “farce”. Amnesty International warned before the last election in Bahrain that “political opposition has been effectively suppressed over the course of the past two years, with a disproportionate impact on Shia political, civic and religious leaders”.

In its most recent report on human rights globally, the Department of State last year documented “significant” rights issues in Bahrain, including torture, arbitrary detention, political prisoners, restrictions on freedom of expression, and substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association.

Still, despite its promise to centre human rights in US foreign policy, the Biden administration has not pressured Bahrain – at least publicly – to improve its human rights record.

US officials have heaped praise on the Bahraini government and other Arab countries that normalised relations with Israel.

During a visit to Israel in the past week, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken jointly met Israeli officials and top diplomats from countries that had normalised relations with Israel.

“We are fully committed to expanding cooperation through the Abraham Accords, and building on the remarkable progress that Israel, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, as well as Morocco have made in such a short period of time,” Blinken said on Sunday.

Source: Al Jazeera