Bahrain bars human rights groups as unrest escalates

When Index on Censorship visited Bahrain on a fact finding mission late last year, officials repeatedly pledged to maintain a transparent relationship with the international community. Now that undertaking seems just another broken promise. Three international rights organisations have been denied entry this year.

The fact-finding mission investigated the state of free expression in Bahrain. We detailed our findings in a  report released this week. In meetings with officials from the Ministry of Human Rights, the mission was  promised that as long as the correct procedures were followed, we (and other organisations) would be allowed to enter Bahrain.

Earlier this month Bahrain refused to grant the visas to staff from Physicians for Human Rights and Human Rights First, asking that they delay until March. Despite having visas and a scheduled meeting with the US Embassy, a delegation from Freedom House was barred from entering the country on 19 January, only days before they planned to travel. Authorities asked that the organisation delay their trip until the end of February.

“I was very disappointed that I was unable to go”, Freedom House’s Courtney Radsch told Index. According to Freedom House, the mission’s was not related to political unrest in the county but part of a programme monitoring the empowerment of rural women started in 2010. Radsch said that the decision showed the “complete hypocrisy” of officials. In a blog post, Radsch quoted King Hamad assuring the international community that they would have any open door, saying  “any government which has a sincere desire for reform and progress understands the benefit of objective and constructive criticism.”

A violent crackdown on daily protests continues, and despite the BICI committee’s recommendation that prisoners be released or employees be reinstated, many Bahrainis have been unable to resume their daily lives. Even the chair of the BICI commission, Cherif Bassiouni, who previously commended the King for commissioning the report, said that critics would be justified in calling Bahrain’s sluggish implementation of their recommendations a “whitewash“.

Meanwhile, members of the opposition are growing restless, and this week things took a bloody turn. Violence escalated between protesters and security forces Wednesday, as some younger opposition members attacked police officers. Wednesday’s violence reportedly resulted in four deaths, including that of Mohamed Yacqoub, 18. While human rights activists Index spoke to were insistent on peaceful protest methods, they warned of things taking a more violent turn if brutality against peaceful protesters were to continue after the release of the BICI report.