Bahrain Denies Entry for International Freedom of Expression Delegation
Freedom House condemns the Bahraini government’s sudden and unjustified decision to revoke permission for an international delegation of free expression organizations to visit Bahrain. This decision is the latest example of the government’s lack of interest in addressing the serious human rights abuses occurring in the country.
The delegation, affiliated with the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), included representatives from Freedom House, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Index on Censorship, PEN International, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and freelance journalist Clare Morgana Gillis. It was granted permission on April 11 by Bahrain’s Ministry of Human Rights and Social Development to conduct a mission to assess freedom of expression in the country. The Ministry reversed its decision on April 30 citing what it said were new “guidelines” that prevent more than one organization per week from visiting Bahrain. The denial came less than a week before the group was due to arrive, forcing the cancellation of the mission. Freedom House was also denied entry to Bahrain in January just days before a scheduled visit, despite having been granted visas.
“The Bahraini government maintains publicly that it is trying to return the country to normalcy after last year’s revolt, but this is impossible as long as due process and basic human rights are denied to its citizens and human rights defenders,” said David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House. “Turning away international observers at this time seriously undermines the credibility of the government’s stated commitment to reform.”
The delegation was to follow up on a series of recommendations made by a mission in November 2011, also affiliated with the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) that found serious abuses taking place. Forty-eight IFEX members issued a joint statement on April 18, calling on Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa to “free detained activists, bloggers and human rights defenders and drop all charges that violate the right to peaceful expression.” They specifically sought the immediate release of imprisoned activist, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who was given a life prison sentence for his participation in last year’s Arab Spring uprising, and has been on a hunger strike since February 8, 2012. The government has repeatedly denied that Al-Khawaja’s life is in peril despite evidence to the contrary.
"I am extremely disappointed to be denied entry to Bahrain for a second time given the urgent need to assess the state of freedom of expression on the ground amid ongoing protests and escalating violence,” said Courtney Radsch, senior program manager for Freedom House’s Global Freedom of Expression Campaign. “This decision appears to be a deliberate effort to restrict reporting by independent observers on Bahrain’s human rights transgressions, and is particularly outrageous given that today is World Press Freedom Day.”
Bahrain hosted a high-profile Formula One Grand Prix race event in April that inadvertently became a rallying point for activists and international human rights organizations. “A better way forward for the Bahraini government would be to engage with groups like the IFEX delegation, rather than turning them away,” continued Radsch.
Bahrain is ranked Not Free in Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2012 and Freedom of the Press 2012 surveys.
Freedom in the World 2012: Bahrain
Freedom of the Press 2011: Bahrain
Freedom on the Net 2011: Bahrain
Freedom House Delegation Denied Entry to Bahrain
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.