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Bahrain revokes Human Rights Watch parliament conference visas

Move comes after HRW called on conference participants to raise the issue of ‘repression of human rights in Bahrain’.

Bahrain has revoked visas issued to Human Rights Watch to attend an international parliamentary conference, the rights group said Friday, days after raising concerns about its human rights record.

Visas issued Jan. 30 for two members of the rights group were canceled on March 8 — three days before the conference begins on Saturday, HRW said.

Bahrain, an ally of the US, will host the 146th meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), an international organization whose motto is “For Democracy. For everyone”.

The IPU, which groups parliaments around the world and aims to promote democracy and human rights, said it was “aware” of the visa revocation, but said it was “not responsible for the visa process, which is a sovereign decision is for the host country”. .

The event would have marked the first time HRW representatives have been able to enter the Gulf state since 2012.

HRW, which has permanent observer status with the IPU, had called on conference attendees on Monday to raise concerns about what it called “the severe crackdown on human rights in Bahrain”.

It also said the body should urge Bahrain to “release all prisoners imprisoned solely for peaceful expression” and to repeal laws barring political opponents from participating in elections.

There was no immediate comment from the Bahrain government.

Authorities began a crackdown after an Arab Spring-inspired movement of largely Shiite protesters took to the streets in 2011 to demand an elected government for the Gulf kingdom of some 1.4 million people.

Since then, hundreds of protesters have been imprisoned and opposition parties have been outlawed. In November’s parliamentary elections, Bahrain’s two main opposition groups, the Shia Al-Wefaq and the secular Waad, were barred from putting forward candidates. These parties were dissolved in 2016 and 2017 respectively.

The Bahrain government has said it has made significant reforms in recent years in the areas of human rights, criminal justice and the treatment of detainees. It has also denied allegations of human rights abuses and said its elections are democratic.

Human rights groups, including HRW, have criticized Bahrain for “whitewashing” or “sporting” its human rights record by holding international events, such as last week’s annual Formula 1 race, as a way to from the repression of the political opposition.

Tirana Hassan, HRW’s acting executive director, called the visa cancellations “a blatant example of (Bahraini’s) escalating repression”.

“Bahrain’s hosting of high-level sporting and international events is a transparent attempt to quell its decades-long campaign to crush political opposition and stifle the country’s vibrant civil society,” Hassan said in a statement.