11 May 2016 – Six international and local NGOs wrote to the Swiss Minister of Foreign Affairs expressing concern over the King of Bahrain’s state visit to Switzerland later this week. King Hamad is expected to arrive in Bern on Thursday 12 May, in what will be the first state visit to Switzerland in Bahrain’s history. The NGOs strongly urged that human rights be a key issue raised in meetings between the King and the Swiss Federal Council.
The NGOs urged Minister for Foreign Affairs Didier Burkhalter to call for the release of human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja and the pardoning of torture victims on death row in his meetings with the King, and for the reinstatement of the recently-lifted arms ban to the country.
Zainab Al-Khawaja was arrested in March to begin serving a 37-month prison sentence, following her prosecution on speech-related charges, including two charges related to her tearing an image of the King of Bahrain. Despite a promise on 9 April from the Bahraini foreign minister that she would soon be release, Al-Khawaja remains in prison.
Enclosed with the letter is a message from Al-Khawaja, smuggled from prison. She writes: “I think of all those western governments between us and our freedom; those governments who see us suffer for democracy and still support dictatorships in our countries. I remember another line I underlined in my book ‘She preaches one thing while deceitfully practising another’.”
The NGOs’ letter also called attention the plight of death row inmates Mohammad Ramadan and Husain Moosa. Both allege torture, and Ramadan in particular alleges that police officers told him they knew he hadn’t committed the crime for which he was sentenced, but that he deserved his punishment regardless. The two men have exhausted all legal appeals, and can only be spared by royal pardon.
The NGOs expressed regret over the Swiss government’s recent decision to authorise arms sales valued at 185 million francs to Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE after a year-long arms suspension first instated at the onset of Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. They urged that a ban be reinstated on Bahrain, until it has fully implemented human rights reforms.
Switzerland has led five joint-statements on Bahrain at the UN Human Rights Council, most recently in September 2015. These statements have drawn attention to ongoing human rights violations in the country and called for further substantive reforms.
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy, BIRD: “The Swiss have had a strong and credible position on human rights in Bahrain for many years, but this state visit and renewed arms sales threaten to undermine the integrity of their previous work. We will be extremely disappointed if human rights do not take a central focus in their meetings with King Hamad, including a clear call for the release of Bahrain’s prisoners of conscience.”