As Human Rights Researchers Denied Entry to Bahrain, U.S. Embassy Stays Silent

By Brian Dooley 

It’s fair to say that Bahrain’s ruling family doesn’t do well with negative feedback. Its peaceful critics are in jail, framed for being terrorists.

It can’t risk the existence of any real political opposition groups, so it’s banned them. It has fake elections every four years, and the unelected prime minister is the king’s eldest son.

It’s an odd place for the international Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), whose motto is “For Democracy. For everyone,” to hold its 2023 meeting, but they are starting there tomorrow.

The meeting’s website says it “will provide opportunities for the community of parliaments under the umbrella of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, to meet and stand on a common base, opening broad horizons of dialogue aimed at strengthening parliamentary efforts, within the framework of the general theme of ‘Promoting peaceful coexistence and inclusive societies: Fighting intolerance.’”

Oddly there’s no mention on IPU’s website that this week Bahrain’s authorities revoked the entry visas it issued on January 30, 2023, to two staff members from Human Rights Watch to attend the IPU assembly.  If you anticipated quite a fuss from the IPU — as you’ll recall they’re “for democracy, for everyone” and because HRW holds permanent observer status with the IPU, which grants HRW access to the parliamentary organization’s assemblies – you’d be sadly mistaken.

The revocation came a few days after HRW, Human Rights First, and 20 other organizations signed a joint statement urging those attending the assembly “to publicly raise concerns regarding the dire state of political freedom in Bahrain, including the ongoing detention of two former members of Bahrain’s parliament.”

That Bahrain’s ruling family has banned critical voices from the country, including parliamentarians, is no shock. In 2014, Congressman Jim McGovern and I were refused entry to Bahrain, as were Danish Member of Parliament Lars Aslan Rasmussen and I when we arrived at Manama airport in 2018.

The U.S. Embassy in Manama remains publicly silent about Bahrain’s refusal of entry to the HRW staff.  While the administration says it is “putting human rights at the center of U.S. foreign policy,” and will host another “Summit for Democracy” at the end of this month, its emissaries in Manama have yet to find their voice about Bahrain’s latest attempts to stifle both human rights and democracy.

Instead, the U.S. embassy’s twitter account this week features a smiling picture of a senior State Department diplomat chatting to another of the king’s sons, Nasser Al Khalifa. The caption says Assistant Secretary Barbara Leaf and the prince met “to highlight our strong security partnership, economic cooperation, & people-to-people ties.”

You might remember Prince Nasser as the man at the center of a British court case, following allegations that the prince was involved in the torture of prisoners during 2011’s pro-democracy uprising in Bahrain, that ruled that Nasser does not enjoy immunity from prosecution.

The embassy also tweeted this week about the visit by U.S. government officials to the kingdom “to convene discussions about addressing terrorism in cyberspace.” Let’s hope the conversation included a reminder about what terrorism actually is, because Bahrain’s ruling family seems to confuse it with legitimate peaceful advocacy for human rights.

The website of the U.S. embassy in Manama today features an article on “The importance of an independent press,” without any reference to Bahrain authorities shutting down the country’s only independent newspaper six years ago.

The IPU and the U.S. government should publicly and immediately condemn Bahrain’s revocation of visas to the HRW staff, press for the admittance of other international human rights researchers to that country, and speak out against the multitude of other violations committed by the dictatorship against human rights and democracy.



  • Brian Dooley

Published on March 10, 2023


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