Rights groups are urging members of parliament attending this year’s Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) in Bahrain to use the assembly to raise concerns about the “dire state of political freedom” in the Gulf country.
In a joint letter to the delegates of the IPU Assembly, the 22 organisations, including Human Rights Watch, PEN International and Reprieve, noted two former members of Bahrain’s parliament were currently in detention.
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“We urge you to ensure that the IPU’s 146th Assembly will not be used by the Bahraini authorities to whitewash its dismal rights record,” the groups said in the letter published on Monday.
The assembly is due to start in Manama, Bahrain’s capital, on March 11.
Bahrain has been accused of widespread crackdowns following pro-democracy protests in 2011, and opposition politicians, along with activists, bloggers, and human rights defenders, remain in prison over their roles in those demonstrations and more recent protests.
In December, three independent United Nations experts expressed concern for the “alleged arbitrary detention and subsequent arrests” of human rights activist Yusuf Ahmed Hasan Kadhem, 17-year-old Ali Mustafa Majid Maki and two unidentified 16-year-olds for taking part in protests against the normalisation of ties with Israel.
Among the requests to the legislators attending the IPU, the letter urged them to press for the unconditional and immediate release of all political prisoners, and the removal of so-called “political isolation” laws that were introduced in 2018 and barred former members of the parties from running for parliament or sitting on the boards of governors of civil society organisations.
It also called for an end to torture and ill-treatment, and for citizenship to be reinstated in line with UN recommendations for all those arbitrarily stripped of their nationality.
Bahrain’s judiciary dissolved two of the country’s main political opposition parties, al-Wefaq and Wa’ad, in 2016 and 2017, and Human Rights Watch says the country imposes severe restrictions on freedom of expression, association, and assembly, while also noting that elections are neither free nor fair.
Authorities in Bahrain deny accusations of human rights abuses and say its elections are democratic.
The IPU was founded in 1889 to promote dialogue and diplomacy. Its twice-yearly assemblies are part of its decision-making mechanism and the Bahrain event will focus on promoting peaceful coexistence and inclusivity.
The 145th assembly was held in the Rwandan capital, Kigali.