Why I won’t be going to Bahrain next week

The Bahraini government has a funny definition of transparency. Despite flowery invitations made during my last visit to the troubled country, an IFEX-affiliated delegation  following up on our trip has been denied entry. Not entirely promising for a country that insists it is committed to “reform”.

Last time we went, we were there for the presentation of report by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI).

Officials highlighted the importance of international cooperation, but I’m guessing they felt that a Grand Prix or Air Show is the only way to secure that one.

In meetings with officials, our delegation was promised transparency as long as we followed the rules.

Technically, we didn’t follow them this time around: it’s a hard thing to do when “new rules” are introduced with only days left to your mission. On 12 April, the Ministry of Human Rights wrote to the delegation approving our planned mission:

 [W]e look forward to your delegations visit between 6th and 10th of May inclusive. The Ministry will also arrange any meetings with government officials if you so require.

Current regulations in the Kingdom of Bahrain for non-tourist visas issued to delegations of international organisations such as yours are granted five working day visas to the Kingdom. Also I will be requiring scanned copies of the details page of the passports of persons who are applying to visit the Kingdom in order to put forward their names to the special committee for revision and approval.

We sent in the information as requested, but now the Kingdom has now introduced a new rule that says that only one organisation can be in the country at a time — odd, as this hasn’t been a problem in the past. But this time, it was suggested that our delegation —consisting of Index, Freedom House, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, CPJ, PEN International and Reporters without Borders — might want to come one-by-one!

The sad part? This isn’t really shocking. Journalists, politicians and countless human rights workers have been kept out of the country. All of this from a country that allegedly values both press freedom and human rights.

We carefully followed what we were told by the Bahrani government were the rules, so Bahrain should hold up their end of the bargain. A nebulous visa process and sketchy attempts to whitewash human rights violations only makes me ask one question: what BICI report?

Sara Yasin is an Editorial Assistant at Index. She tweets at @missyasin

Bahrain-Letter to Courtney Radsch-30Apr2012