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France Should Press Bahrain King on Rights Issues

Bahrain King’s Visit Ideal Opportunity to Urge Release of Nabeel Rajab, Prisoners

Demonstrations after the death of a young Bahraini after being shot outside the home of the Shiite leader in Bahrain on March 25, 2017.  © 2017 Sayed Baqer AlKamel/NurPhoto via Getty Images

French President Emmanuel Macron should not hold back in criticizing Bahrain’s dismal rights record during King Hamad al-Khalifa’s visit to Paris on April 30.

Bahrain is approaching a near total shutdown on free speech as authorities have effectively dissolved and outlawed every opposition party and shuttered independent media. Peaceful dissidents, including political opponents and human rights defenders, are being harassed, arrested, and prosecuted on abusive charges. Many of those detained have alleged severe ill-treatment and torture in detention.

In a rare move that triggered a diplomatic crisis between France and Bahrain, the French ambassador to Manama, Cecile Longe, boldly called out Bahrain on its abuse in a tweet last June. She expressed concern about the “treatment of human rights defenders and political opponents in the country,” and specifically criticized the upholding of Nabeel Rajab’s five-year sentence by the Manama Appeals Court. The Court of Cassation – Bahrain’s court of last resort – upheld his conviction in December.

Nabeel Rajab is one of dozens of human rights defenders unjustly imprisoned for refusing to stay silent on his government’s rights abuses. His five-year sentence arose from tweets alleging torture in a Bahrain prison – which Human Rights Watch has documented – and criticizing the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen in which Bahrain is a participating member. In recognition of Rajab’s courageous human rights activism, the City Council of Paris awarded him honorary citizenship during a ceremony last June.

King Hamad al-Khalifa can, with the stroke of a pen, quash the charges against Rajab and other political prisoners and order their immediate release. Earlier this month, the king issued an order reinstating the citizenship of 551 individuals who had been unfairly stripped of their nationality through court orders.

Macron should hold the line on Bahrain’s abuses and ask the king to once again use his powers to correct the injustice perpetrated by the judiciary and release Nabeel Rajab.

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