Gilmore condemns jailing for life of Bahraini activists

The Irish Times – Thursday, June 23, 2011
MARY FITZGERALD, Foreign Affairs Correspondent

TÁNAISTE AND Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore has said he is “appalled” by the severity of the life sentences handed out to eight Bahraini opposition activists, including a former co-ordinator with Dublin-based human rights organisation Front Line.

The sentences, which threaten to raise tensions ahead of next week’s planned national dialogue in Bahrain, come amid worries over deteriorating human rights conditions in the tiny Gulf state.

Among the eight facing life imprisonment is Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, Front Line’s former protection co-ordinator for the Middle East. Several others received sentences of between two and 15 years.

The activists, who were arrested in the wake of pro-democracy protests that first erupted in February, were accused of conspiring to topple the government and having links with foreign terrorist organisations.

“This trial was a total legal charade and followed [al-Khawaja’s] brutal arrest and torture for exercising his legitimate rights to freedom of expression and association by campaigning for democracy and human rights in Bahrain,” said Front Line director Mary Lawlor.

Mr Gilmore said the EU had, at Ireland’s suggestion, earlier this week raised Mr Khawaja’s case along with those of other detained Bahrainis, including medical personnel, several of whom are graduates of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), who are also on trial.

He said Ireland’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Niall Holohan, met this week with his Bahraini counterpart in Riyadh to inform him of “the Irish Government and people’s utmost concern” over recent events. Mr Holohan is not yet able to make formal representations directly to the authorities in Bahrain, pending the finalisation of bilateral accreditation procedures.

“The Ambassador also used the occasion to urge the Bahraini ambassador to convey immediately to his authorities that all those who are charged with nothing more than peaceful protest should be released without further delay,” Mr Gilmore said.

“Ireland will continue to raise human rights in Bahrain, both bilaterally and in co-ordination with our EU partners, at all appropriate occasions.”

On Tuesday the Tánaiste, in response to a parliamentary question, confirmed that Mr Holohan had attended a recent graduation ceremony at the RCSI campus in Bahrain, which was also attended by the country’s prime minister, Prince Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa.

“I think it is important to distinguish between the involvement of the [RCSI] in the training of Bahraini medical personnel, which I would regard as entirely positive, and the detention of medical personnel by the Bahraini authorities, about which I have made clear the Government’s concerns,” Mr Gilmore said.

Front Line said it was concerned about the increasingly hard line being taken by the Bahraini authorities.

“For the forthcoming national dialogue to have any serious hope of success the government of Bahrain must attempt to restore trust as a vital pre-condition.

“The first step to creating trust is the immediate and unconditional release of Abdulhadi Al Khawaja and all other human rights defenders currently in detention.”