Four 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. There has been mounting pressure from French MPs in the last few months, encouraging the French government to speak out against the continued human rights violations in Bahrain. This pressure shows a positive step towards increased awareness on both the domestic and international level, making it more likely that foreign governments will take more decisive action against Bahrain. The four MPs to draw attention to this situation were; Mr Gerard Leseul, Mr Jean-Chistophe Lagarde, Ms Isabelle Rauch and Mr Dominique Potier.
Mr. Gerard Leseul is a member of the sustainable development and regional planning committee, and a member of the socialist party. In his statement, Mr. Leseul drew the attention of the Foreign Minister to the respect of human rights in Bahrain and, more specifically, to the detention of political opponents. Mr. Leseul referred to the regime’s increasingly repressive human rights violations following the violent shutdown of the 2011 Arab Spring, and the continued reprisals faced by those who speak out about human rights violations. Mr. Leseul referred directly to the case of Kameel Juma Hasan, the 17-year-old son of former prisoner Najah Ahmed Yusuf, who have both faced reprisals for their refusal to become informers for the State Security Service. Dozens of Shiite civic, religious and political figures remain in detention, many of which have been detained since 2011 for their participation in the pro-democracy movement. Mr. Leseul referred specifically to Ali Salman, leader of Bahrain’s largest legal political movement between 2006 and 2011, who is still serving a life sentence handed down in 2018 on trumped-up charges of “spying” for Qatar. The case of Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace was also highlighted, as one of the 13 opposition activists arrested and subsequently convicted by a military court in 2011. According the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, Dr. Al-Singace has been subjected to brutal torture and degrading treatment; treatment for which he began a hunger strike in protest against on 8 July 2021. Dr. Al-Singace suffers from several chronic illnesses, including post-polio syndrome and a musculoskeletal condition. The international community has consistently called for his immediate and unconditional release, including the United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights Defenders, leading international human rights organisations and US, UK and European legislators. Mr. Leseul also referred to the continued denial of access to its territory for human rights monitors, with specific reference to the denials of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and UN human rights bodies during 2020. Comments were additionally made to Bahrain’s involvement in the Saudi-led coalition in the armed conflict in Yemen, particularly considering the prevalence of the humanitarian situation in Yemen on the current agenda of the Human Rights Council. Considering the above, Mr. Leseul questioned the Foreign Minister on France’s position on these various human rights violations, and whether diplomatic actions are currently underway to encourage the country to respect fundamental human rights.
Mr. Jean-Christophe Lagarde is the President of the Union of Democratic and Independents and a member of the National Defense and Armed Forces Committee. In his statement, Mr. Lagarde furthered these concerns for the repression of freedom of expression and human rights violations in Bahrain. Mr. Lagarde referred to the several political, associative or religious figures who have openly criticized these violations and have been sentenced to prison. The conditions of the prison were of particular concern to Mr. Lagarde, who referred to the inadequate sanitary facilities, ill-treatment, and acts of torture, as well as the epidemic of scabies which broke out in Jau Prison, leading to further deterioration of prison conditions. Mr. Lagarde also referred to the lack of protective equipment provided to prisoners during the pandemic, despite the infection of prison staff and prisoners. The use of the death penalty following grossly unfair trials was also referred to as a matter of concern, in addition to the situation of foreign workers and sex trafficking in the Kingdom. In light of these factors, Mr. Lagarde asked the Foreign Minister what measures France had been taking on the international scale to ensure that these violations cease, and that human rights are respected in the country.
Ms. Isabelle Rauch is a member of the French National Assembly and represents the La République En Marche! Party. Ms. Rauch also alerted the Foreign Minister to the violation of human rights in Bahrain, including the arbitrary deprivation of civil rights of opposition leaders, journalists and trade unionists. Ms. Rauch also made explicit reference to the case of human rights defender Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace, as well as leader of the political opposition, Mr. Hasan Mushaima. Considering the denouncement of these situations by several human rights organisations, Ms. Rauch asked the Foreign Minister what diplomatic measures France can take to remedy this infringement of fundamental freedoms, and to ensure that Bahrain respects its international commitments.
Finally, Mr. Dominique Potier is a member of the Economic Affairs Committee and a member of the socialist party. Mr. Potier also drew the attention of the Foreign Minister to the cases of human rights violation against political prisoners in Bahrain. On March 25, 2020, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed her grave concern regarding the overcrowding of prisons throughout the world and recommended the release of as many prisoners as possible as a decisive measure to curb and limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus. This alert was particularly relevant to Bahrain, whose overcrowded prisons and lack of appropriate sanitary measures to control the disease, led to a significant spread of the virus during the beginning of 2021. Mr. Potier referred to warnings by civil society in April 2021 as to the conditions of detention during the pandemic, which were ignored by Bahraini authorities. These attempts to conceal the seriousness of the pandemic in the prisons triggered demonstrations across Bahrain calling for the release of political prisoners, which was violently repressed by authorities. Mr. Potier also referred to the ill-treatment and torture of prisoners of conscience, as well as the European Parliament resolution adopted on March 11, 2021, regarding prisoners sentenced to death and human rights defenders. Like his colleagues, Mr. Potier also made explicit reference to the cases of Mr. Hasan Mushaima and ill-treatment of Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace, who are leading a new phase of mobilization. As a result of these violations, Mr. Potier asked the Foreign Minister what France is doing to secure the release of political prisoners who are serving sentences the United Nations has deemed to be excessive, to condemn acts of torture, and to ensure respect for human rights in Bahraini prisons.
These calls demonstrate a trend of increased awareness of human rights violations in Bahrain in France. In August 2021, concerns were raised by four other French MPs, Sandra Marsaud and Éric Giardin, as well as Xavier Paluszkiewicz and Guadeloupean MP Justine Benin. Mr. Paluszkiewicz and Ms. Benin both also made specific reference to the cases of Hassam Mushaima and Dr. Abduljalil Alsingace.
The French government has been repeatedly called out for their lack of action with regards to Bahrain’s human rights violations, with eight 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.
The International community is on high alert when it comes to issues in Bahrain, after recent observations were made by the OHCHR and other human rights groups condemning the ongoing attacks against freedom of expression. Despite mounting international pressure, 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 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 repeated calls by French MPs prompt the Foreign Minister to take concrete action against Bahrain’s systematic violations of fundamental freedoms, and prompt similar actions amongst other countries in the region.