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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Bahrain Welcomes European Delegation, Not Delegates\' Calls to Free Dissidents

Last Updated, Saturday, 10:34 a.m. As The Lede reported on Wednesday, a delegation from the European Parliament visited Bahrain this week to discuss human rights, just as the kingdom jailed a rights advocate for documenting a protest on Twitter.

Bahrain's state news media presented the visit as evidence that the kingdom is committed to human rights. One report showed the delegates meeting with the head of an official human rights organization established by royal decree, another their briefing by the royal who oversees the police force “on human rights reforms that have been implemented within the interior ministry.”

What the country's official news agency did not report, however, is that the head of the delegation, Inese Vaidere of Latvia, called for the release of all “prisoners of conscience” currently being detained for their role in the protest movement.

Ms. Vaidere's call was joined by at least two other members of the European Parliament who made the trip, Richard Howitt of Britain and Ana Gomes of Portugal. At the end of their visit, those members issued a joint statement calling on the government to immediately release up to 800 “political prisoners” and begin direct talks with the opposition.

Like the New York Times Op-Ed columnist Nicholas Kristof, who was denied entry to Bahrain last week after reporting on human-rights abuses on previous trips, Ms. Gomes was stopped at the airport in April, the last time she attempted to visit the kingdom to meet with rights activists.

Throughout their three-day visit, Ms. Gomes and Mr. Howitt posted a stream of updates on their Twitter feeds as the delegation met with Bahraini officials and detained opposition members. They both reported questioning the treatment of human rights activists like Said Yousif al-Muhafda, who was jailed on Monday for tweeting about a protest.