Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has expressed concern about the “considerable restrictions of fundamental freedoms” in Bahrain following the Middle Eastern nation’s parliamentary elections last month.
In a letter to Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins, seen by The Irish Times, Mr Coveney acknowledged that serious concerns had been raised about the legitimacy of the vote held in November and that Human Rights Watch has claimed the elections took place in a “repressive political environment”.
The Minister noted that in order to be effective in promoting human rights worldwide, Irish policy makers must “raise our voice in an appropriate way and at the right opportunities, so that our concerns are taken seriously and acted upon”.
The response follows a letter submitted to the Minister on November 14th on behalf of more than 75 TDs and senators expressing “grave concern over the government of Bahrain’s suppression of civil and political society” ahead of the country’s parliamentary elections which were held in late November.
International election monitors were banned during the first parliamentary elections since 2011 while opposition groups were barred from taking part. Three senior opposition members, including the secretary general of the opposition party Al-Wefaq Sheikh Ali Salman, were sentenced to life in jail in early November for allegedly spying for Qatar.
Legislators across Europe and the US condemned the elections in November, warning that “free and fair elections” could only take place if citizens were able to express their views.
In the letter sent to Mr Coveney, Irish TDs underlined that Bahraini authorities had “forcibly dissolved all major opposition groups, shut down the only independent newspaper, and jailed thousands of political prisoners” and as a result was “not meeting the conditions necessary for fair and free elections”.
“The current situation represents a mockery of democracy,” notes the letter signed by Niall Collins on behalf of 44 Fianna Fáil TDs, Seán Crow on behalf of 22 Sinn Féin TDs and six senators, along with independent TDs Maureen O’Sullivan, Noel Grealish, Thomas Pringle, Thomas Broughan, Clare Daly and Catherine Connelly. They warned that Bahrain’s leading opposition politicians were “languishing in jail” along with thousands of other political prisoners and that “any civil and political space is effectively closed”.
They added that the country’s only independent newspaper, Al-Wasat, was forced to closed in 2017 and at least 15 journalists were in detention while international human rights organisations and foreign media outlets were consistently barred from entering the country.
The group urged Mr Coveney to “call on the Bahraini government to make good on their stated commitment to make progress in the area of human rights” and to introduce reform to ensure legitimacy of the public vote in the November election.
In his response, Mr Coveney said the Irish Government had regularly conveyed its concerns regarding Bahrain’s human rights record through the Bahraini embassy in London and through Ireland’s non-resident ambassador to Bahrain.
He also noted that Ireland regularly raises the case of human rights abuses in Bahrain at the UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva where, in September, Irish representatives called on Bahrain to “respect freedom of opinion and express, and the right to a fair trial”.
The Minister said he supported a recent statement from the EU spokesperson for foreign affairs and security policy which noted that the sentencing of opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman was “another worrying step in the direction of confrontation and polarisation in Bahrain, undermining the chances of an inclusive political debate”.
“My department will continue to monitor developments in Bahrain, and will continue to call on the Bahraini Government to deliver on its stated commitment to make tangible progress in the human rights sphere,” he said.