On August 30, 2021, Sandra Marsaud and Éric Girardin, Members of Parliament (MPs) for France, drew the attention of the Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, to the deteriorating human rights situation in Bahrain. Ms. Marsaud and Mr. Girardin are both French National Assembly members, and have represented La Republique En Marche since 2017. Mr. Giradrin also serves as a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
Click HERE to read the full question of M. Éric Girardin
Click HERE to read the question of Ms. Sandra Marsaud
In her statement, Ms. Marsaud referred specifically to the rising number of reports issued by international observers about the Kingdom of Bahrain, and the continued restricted access to human rights organizations into the country, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Ms. Marsaud condemned the repression of political activists and human rights defenders, as well as the attacks on freedom of movement, deprivation of citizenship, and torture in detention. Explicit attention was drawn to the lack of access to essential healthcare, despite the outbreak of COVID-19 in Bahrain’s prisons. In light of these concerning issues, Ms. Marsaud questioned the Foreign Affairs Minister on what diplomatic initiatives France is taking to end such persecution by Bahraini authorities in the country.
In his statement, Mr. Girardin furthered these concerns by referring to the arbitrary deprivation of civil liberties in Bahrain, particularly with regards to opposition leaders, journalists, and trade unionists. Mr. Girardin denounced the repression of these important civil society actors for having demanded respect for human rights in the country, and the continued risk for the families of those who continue their activism in exile. Specific attention was drawn to the cases of human rights defender Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace, and political opposition leader Hassan Mushaima, who exemplify those suffering reprisals for demanding change in the Kingdom. Mr. Girardin also highlighted the work of Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) in documenting the thousands of cases of torture in prison, providing voices to those suffering ill-treatment at the hands of prison authorities. As a result, Mr. Girardin stated that France must demand the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience detained for exercising their right to freedom of expression, and urged the Foreign Affairs Minister to take action in this regard.
Hassan Mushaima was recently transferred to hospital following a rapid deterioration in his health, after authorities repeatedly failed to provide him with adequate healthcare in prison. He continues to be denied basic medications and treatment, causing him to suffer from irreversible effects to his health. Additionally, Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace has been on hunger strike since July 8, 2021, in protest against his ill-treatment in prison, and the confiscation of his writings that he had spent four years working on. Despite his hunger strike entering its eighth week, authorities continue to deny his basic freedoms and ignore his requests to respect his human rights. The negligent medical care of Hassan Mushaima and Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace is yet another example of Bahrain’s persecution of human rights defenders and opposition leaders, as well as Bahrain’s appalling treatment of prisoners of conscience more widely.
The concerns raised by Ms. Marsaud and Mr. Girardin come alongside mounting pressure within the French parliament to address Bahrain’s systematic violation of human rights. On August 17, 2021, French MP Xavier Paluszkiewicz questioned the Foreign Minister’s position regarding Bahrain’s restriction of fundamental freedoms, also drawing explicit attention to the cases of Hassan Mushaima and Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace. Mr. Paluszkiewicz urged the Foreign Affairs Minister to make France’s position known with regards to Bahrain’s continued failure to abide by international commitments, and to inform parliament of the possible diplomatic measures available to remedy such behavior.
This growing concern amongst French parliamentarians also accompanies demands made by Guadeloupean MP Justine Benin, who also questioned the Foreign Affairs Minister’s commitment to ensuring respect for human dignity and political freedoms in Bahrain. Ms. Benin also made specific reference to the cases of Hassan Mushaima and Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace, portraying the international attention paid to the plight of these two human rights figures.
The French government has been repeatedly called out for their lack of action with regards to Bahrain’s human rights violations, with four MP’s having now raised their criticism of the Kingdom’s repression of civil and political rights. This significant shift amongst French politicians signals a step in the right direction for the country’s foreign relations with Bahrain, in what may be a part of a larger movement in calling out governments who fail to adhere to their international obligations.
Bahrain’s ongoing attacks on freedom of expression have also been a significant cause for concern within the wider international community, after recent observations made by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), as well as other major human rights groups, alerted the international community to the dire human rights situation within Bahrain. Nevertheless, Bahraini security forces have continued to regularly detain and abuse government critics, journalists, activists, and religious leaders, subjecting them to police brutality, lengthy prison terms and arbitrary denaturalization. As a result, the government currently holds approximately 4,000 political prisoners and continues to incarcerate individuals on charges related solely to freedom of expression, assembly, and association.
The mounting pressure on the French Foreign Affairs Minister signals a very clear change in rhetoric amongst French MPs, and a rising demand for change with regards to the country’s relations with Bahrain. Hopefully the actions taken by these MPs results in concrete change within the country’s foreign policy, and prompts similar international action in calling out Bahrain’s systematic violation of fundamental freedoms within the Kingdom.