HRW blasts Bahrain for rights abuse, praises Qatar

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By Anthony Harwood/London

Campaigners have torn into Bahrain and praised Qatar in a review of the human rights records of more than 90 countries during 2017.
The huge 643-page report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) came seven months after Bahrain joined a Saudi-led blockade of Qatar which continues to divide the Gulf region.
In June last year, the Saudi-led alliance, which included Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, launched a diplomatic and transport boycott of Qatar accusing it of cosying up to Iran and supporting terrorism, which Doha denies.
HRW launched an outspoken attack on Bahrain accusing the government of harassing, intimidating, imprisoning and prosecuting human rights defenders and their relatives on trumped-up charges.
“Bahrain’s tolerance for dissent is approaching vanishing point, erasing whatever progress it made after promising to make reforms following the unrest in 2011,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East Director at HRW.
Qatar has faced criticism in the past year over the treatment of migrant workers brought in from South Asia to build stadiums for the 2022 World Cup.
But the country won praise from HRW which said that reforms the Qatari government announced in October would “usher in some of the most progressive human rights standards in the Gulf region”.
These included legislation to improve labour standards for migrant workers, such as migrant domestic workers law affecting 173,742 people, and the granting of permanent residency to children born to Qatari mothers and foreign fathers.
Among the promises was a pledge to reform the kafala, or sponsorship, a system which is rife across the Gulf and ties workers to individual sponsors for their visa and employment.
“Qatar could have retrenched into authoritarianism in the face of a political crisis but instead has responded to a breakdown in neighbourly relations by raising the bar on human rights standards in the Gulf,” said Belkis Wille, senior Qatar researcher at HRW.
“Implementing its commitments to respecting the rights of Qatari women, millions of migrant workers, and vulnerable refugees in the country will be the real measure of its success in 2018.”
In contrast HRW savaged Bahrain over its treatment of dissidents.
Already serving a two year-sentence for speech crimes, Nabeel Rajab now faces another 15 years behind bars on charges that include sending a Tweet criticising the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, a bombing offensive which has received worldwide condemnation.
Bahrain also placed 20 human rights activists under a travel ban, stripped 156 others of their nationality, sentenced another 14 to death for alleged terrorist activities and suspended the country’s only independent newspaper.
Two relatives of human rights defender Sayed Alwadaei, currently exiled in Britain, were sentenced to three years and six years in jail on terrorism charges despite allegations of ill treatment and forced confessions.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, condemned the “arrests, intimidation, travel bans and closure order, with increasing reports of torture” in Bahrain.
He said that “democratic space in the country has essentially been shut down” and “no public relations campaign can paper over the violations being inflicted on the people of Bahrain.”
The UN Committee against Torture expressed concern over “numerous and consistent allegations of widespread torture” and “the climate of impunity which seems to prevail.”

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