16 November 2018 – On Friday the 16th of November, 38 Members of the European Parliament (MEP) expressed their serious concern over the legitimacy of the upcoming elections, due to be held on Saturday 24 November, for the Council of Representatives of Bahrain’s National Assembly in a letter addressed to Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.
In particular, the MEPs expressed concern over the “restrictive political environment in Bahrain, in particular the government’s effective closing of all civil and political space” and highlighted the life sentence handed down on 4 November 2018 against Sheikh Ali Salman, the Secretary General of Bahrain’s largest opposition political society, which is now dissolved, on bogus charges. His sentence, they write, “raises further concerns that the results will be viewed as unfree, unfair, and illegitimate.”
In addition to calling attention to the detention of political leaders, like Sheikh Ali Salman and Hassan Mushaima, the MEPs highlighted the May 2018 amendment to the Law on the Exercise of Political Rights, which effectively bars the political participation of major political figures. The amendment also prevents anyone belonging to a dissolved political opposition society, or who is affiliated with a dissolved political opposition society, or who has a criminal record from running for, or holding office. This, in conjunction with the extraordinarily high number of political prisoners – 4,000 by some counts – further disenfranchises the political opposition.
Moreover, Bahraini officials forced the kingdom’s only independent newspaper, Al-Wasat, to close in 2017. Officials have imprisoned at least 15 journalists, barred foreign media from entering the country, and targeted human rights defenders and activists because of their expression. Among those in prison are Nabeel Rajab, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, and Abduljalil al-Singace, the parliamentarians added.
Therefore, these events highlight the ongoing human rights violations in the country and shed light to the fact that Bahrain does not meet international standards of free and fair elections. Citizens are restricted from organizing politically and opposition societies, as well as, independent media have been forcibly dissolved. Hence, citizens find it difficult to express and debate their views on matters of public concern.
Julie Ward, MEP: “As a long-standing supporter of human rights in Bahrain and the wider region, I am very worried about the deteriorating environment ahead of the elections. I hope H.M. the King will take our concerns into account, and promote measures to improve the human rights situation – starting by releasing the political prisoners.”
Earlier, on 6 November, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in the United States House of Representatives released a letter to the King of Bahrain raising concerns about the elections. Members of Parliament in the United Kingdom and Ireland have also sent letters to the King of Bahrain raising similar concerns.
Click here to read a PDF of the letter.