Joint Letter: Make any meeting with King Hamad contingent on tangible human rights reforms

Dear Mr. President,

We are writing to raise serious concerns about your confirmed participation in the upcoming Jeddah Summit on 15 and 16 July given that the leaders attending this summit are some of the most brutal authoritarian rulers today. We understand that one-on-one bilateral meetings between heads of state often accompany summits such as this, and we urge you in the strongest of terms not to entertain such a meeting with the King Hamad bin Isa Al Kahlifa  of Bahrain unless the country demonstrates concrete progress on human rights, as outlined in our below requests.

We fear that unconditionally affording Bahrain’s King an in-person meeting will serve to legitimize the continued repression of his ruling dictatorship in Bahrain. 

When King Hamad personally met with President Trump in 2017, it was followed by the deadliest attack on peaceful protestors in Bahrain’s recent history. Trump emboldened Bahrain’s rulers by publicly promising that “there won’t be strain with this administration.” Less than 48 hours later, Bahrain security forces opened fire on a peaceful sit-in, killing five people in the deadliest incident of political violence since the 2011 Arab Spring pro-democracy protests. We are thus concerned that your upcoming visit has the potential to trigger further repression and could act as another offer of a blank check for human rights abuses.   

During last year’s Summit for Democracy, you rightly emphasized that democracy around the world is “essential to meeting the unprecedented challenges of our time” and launched the Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal, with the aim to bolster “Democratic Reformers” and “defend human rights globally”. We believe your visit represents a U-turn to this pledge.

Prominent political leaders & human rights defenders arbitrarily detained

Political opposition leaders and human rights defenders who called for democratic change in 2011 remain behind bars after over a decade having endured torture, ill-treatment, and systemic medical negligence. In spite of upcoming elections set to take place in November this year, Bahrain has failed to take any steps to build confidence in the election process. 

Further, there is no indication of any political will to unconditionally release the most prominent arbitrarily detained political opposition leaders and human rights defenders. This is in spite of the unanimous and persistent calls by the international human rights community, including UN Special Procedures. 

Dr Abduljalil AlSingace, blogger, human rights defender and opposition activist imprisoned in 2011, began a  hunger strike on 8 July 2021 to protest the confiscation by Jau prison authorities of an apolitical book on Bahraini dialects that he spent the last four years researching and writing. He has now been on hunger strike for more than one year, most of which he has spent in a hospital due to his deteriorating health.

Other human rights defenders and opposition activists in prison include Hasan Mushaima, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, Sheikh Mohamed Habib AlMuqdad, Sheikh Ali Salman, Abdulwahab Husain, Ali AlHajee, and Naji Fateel.

As you may know, last November marked ten years since the publication of the government-commissioned Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), which revealed shocking accounts of torture, military trials of civilians, and state-sanctioned killings. The report noted that “many detainees were subjected to torture and other forms of physical and psychological abuse while in custody”. The Bahraini King vowed to implement its recommendations in 2011. More than a decade later, this promise has yet to be fulfilled; no senior officials have been held accountable and those subjected to torture still languish unlawfully behind bars. 

Shrinking Civil Society and Curtailed Freedom of Expression

Since 2017, Bahrain’s civil society has faced intimidation and harassment, and come under sustained attack, including in reprisal for engaging with the UN. All independent media outlets have been outlawed and all political opposition parties dissolved, with many of their leaders imprisoned and the country scoring a paltry 2/40 for political rights on Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2022 report. There are at least ten journalists are currently imprisoned for their work in Bahrain, which is ranked 167/180 on the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2022 World Press Freedom Index. The CPJ has documented retaliation against an imprisoned journalist Mahmoud al-Jaziri for his reporting on the risk of COVID-19 in prison, and with the closure of Al-Wasat newspaper in 2017 the government has all but stamped out independent media. 

Use of the Death Penalty in breach of international law
Furthermore, Bahrain abandoned a de facto moratorium on the death penalty in 2017 and has since conducted six executions, five of which were condemned as arbitrary by the former UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Agnes Callamard, in 2017 and 2019 respectively. According to research by the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) and Reprieve, there are 26 inmates on death row, all of whom face imminent execution and nearly half of whom were convicted on the basis of confessions allegedly extracted under torture in cases related to political unrest. In May 2021, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found death row inmates and torture survivors Mohamed Ramadhan and Husain Moosa arbitrarily detained and called for their immediate release and compensation. Yet, they remain in prison unable to even hold the hands of their family members during visitations. 

Key Requests

Ahead of your trip to Jeddah, we urge that you consider meeting with independent civil society organizations to discuss how to prioritize human rights issues. During your participation at the Jeddah Summit, make any meeting with the Bahrain King conditional upon the following:

  • The unconditional release of political opposition leaders arbitrarily detained;
  • The immediate return of Dr Abduljalil AlSingace’s confiscated research to his family members, the adequate provision of  medical treatment to him and his immediate and unconditional release;
  • For clemency to be granted to torture victims on death row; and 
  • Halt all executions of individuals sentenced to death based on confessions obtained under torture. 

We would be delighted to provide any further information or assistance that you may require regarding considerations around human rights in Bahrain and would be happy to attend a meeting with your office to this effect. We thank you in advance for taking our concerns and requests into consideration ahead of your visit to Saudi Arabia and we look forward to receiving a response from you.

Yours sincerely,

Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
PEN America

Take Action & Email Your MP to ask that they support the case of Dr Abduljalil AlSingace by signing EDM 107



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