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Nine intl. rights groups urge Pope to raise human rights during upcoming Bahrain visit

Pope Francis (Photo via Twitter)

Nine international human rights organizations have urged Pope Francis to call for an end to human rights abuses in Bahrain and denounce injustice and repressive policies of the Al-Khalifa regime during his upcoming visit to the Persian Gulf kingdom.

The head of the Catholic Church will pay an official visit to Bahrain between November 3 and 6, at the invitation of the country's civil and ecclesial authorities.

He will visit the capital of Manama and the city of Awali “on the occasion of the Bahrain Forum for Dialogue: East and West for Human Coexistence.”

The organizations said in a joint statement that Pope should call on Bahraini officials to put an end to human rights violations in the country.

“During this historic trip, the Pope should publicly ask the Bahraini monarch, King Hamad bin Isa bin Salman Al Khalifah, and Bahraini authorities to either quash or commute death sentences passed against prisoners,” they stated.

The global human rights organizations also urged Pope to demand that Bahraini officials issue a decree aimed at the abolition of all forms of torture and ill-treatment against political dissidents.

The groups finally asked Pope to urge the Bahraini king to release all those imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, including human rights activists, dissidents and journalists.

The statement was published by Human Rights Watch, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the European Center for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR), the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), Human Rights Action Center, Together against the Death Penalty (Ensemble contre la peine de mort – ECPM), the Centre for Law and Democracy, the Persian Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, and SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights (SALAM DHR).

On Monday, families of jailed Bahraini dissidents appealed to Pope Francis to speak out against human rights abuses perpetrated by the regime.

The appeal was made in a letter written by the families of 12 prisoners sitting on death row, and released by the London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD).

"Our family members remain behind bars and at risk of execution despite the clear injustice of their convictions. Many of them were targeted because they took part in pro-democracy protests during the 'Arab Spring'," read the letter.

"During your visit to Bahrain, we hope you can repeat your call to abolish the death penalty and for the sentences of our family members to be commuted."

Last week, a group of incarcerated Bahraini Shia Muslim clerics urged the head of the Catholic Church to condemn the injustice and repressive policies of the ruling Al Khalifah regime and push for reforms in the Persian Gulf kingdom.

In a statement, the scholars said in Bahrain "the motto of tolerance and coexistence is raised for everyone except for its people," reminding Pope Francis that he is visiting a country "where justice and charity are widely prescribed; but injustice and aggression are practiced in reality.”

“The Bahraini nation constitutes people who have either lost their sons or loved ones, grief-stricken mothers as well as injured, imprisoned, persecuted, and exiled political opponents. International human rights organizations have recorded a long list of violations against Bahraini people,” the statement read.

Anti-regime demonstrations have been held in Bahrain regularly ever since a popular uprising began in mid-February 2011.

The participants demand that the Al Khalifah regime relinquish power and allow a just system representing all Bahrainis to be established.

Manama, however, has gone to great lengths to clamp down on any sign of dissent.

Last month, a London-based human rights organization said Bahraini courts had convicted and sentenced four anti-regime activists to death following unfair trials and based on confessions coerced through torture and ill-treatment.

The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) said in a 61-page report, titled "The Court is Satisfied with the Confession’: Bahrain Death Sentences Follow Torture, Sham Trials,” that Bahraini courts routinely violated the defendants’ rights to fair trials, including the right to legal counsel during interrogation, the right to cross-examine prosecution witnesses, and through reliance on secretly sourced reports.

The report went on to note that much of the torture and ill-treatment occurred in two locations – the Criminal Investigation Directorate of the Ministry of Interior, which is housed in a compound in the Adliya district of Manama, and the Royal Academy of Policing, located adjacent to Bahrain’s notorious Jau Prison. 

BIRD called on Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah to commute the death sentences for all individuals, starting with those convicted on the basis of confessions extracted under torture or ill-treatment.

The human rights organization also urged Bahraini authorities to quash the sentences of all persons whose convictions involved the use of coerced confessions and/or fair trial violations. 

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