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Procedure : 2011/2875(RSP)
Document stages in plenary
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Texts tabled :

B7-0560/2011

Debates :

PV 27/10/2011 - 12.2
CRE 27/10/2011 - 12.2

Votes :

PV 27/10/2011 - 13.2

Texts adopted :

P7_TA(2011)0475

Debates
Thursday, 27 October 2011 - Strasbourg OJ edition

12.2. Bahrain
Video of the speeches
PV
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  President. − The next item is the debate on six motions for resolutions on Bahrain(1).

 
  
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  João Ferreira (GUE/NGL).(PT) Mr President, I would like to repeat a complaint and protest already made on other occasions. Once again, this afternoon, the resolutions are not available in all languages. Specifically, they are not available in Portuguese. I believe this is another demonstration of how much remains to be done in this House to fully respect the principle of multilingualism. This is all the more serious when we consider that a proposal was adopted just yesterday providing for a reduction of more than EUR 20 million in spending on interpretation and translation in the 2012 budget.

I think that this is unacceptable. Much remains to be done in order to ensure that the principle of multilingualism is really respected, and I believe that the amendment adopted yesterday will jeopardise it still more, as I said yesterday, as well as threatening the jobs of workers essential to the functioning of this Parliament.

 
  
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  President. − Mr Ferreira, let me assure you that we fully respect the principles of multilingualism and I will check with the services to see what happened to the Portuguese translation.

 
  
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  Rui Tavares, author.(PT) Mr President, in the first half of this year, which was marked by the events of the Arab Spring, sales of arms to Libya, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain totalled EUR 35 million. Do not answer by telling me that there is now an embargo in place and that these weapons did not kill demonstrators. Shortly before the United Nations announced an embargo on the transfer of arms to Libya in February, the UK was happily selling EUR 72 350 worth of arms to Gaddafi.

The initial offer by the EU to refugees from Libya was EUR 4 million. The sum that the EU Member States made from the profits of the sale of arms to Gaddafi in 2009 totalled EUR 300 million.

The Arab peoples have shown immense courage in fighting their dictators and tyrants. It seems to me that Europe has not shown the same courage in fighting against their own past complicity and collusion with some of those tyrants, and they think that now they will be able to wipe the slate clean, merely by offering their financial support to the Arab Spring.

The EU is currently involved in some aspects of the repression of the opposition in Bahrain. I am not talking about the Member States but our companies. There are European companies which, under pressure from the Bahraini authorities, have fired their employees for engaging in opposition activities.

There are European companies which have participated in distorting satellite transmissions. I am talking about Eutelnet.com in particular, because of the content relating to the opposition that they passed to Bahrain. The EU has responsibilities, as do European companies, if, for example, they benefit from European funds. It must be said that the complicity of European companies with the repression in Bahrain must cease.

 
  
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  Charles Tannock, author. − Mr President, we must congratulate the Bahraini people on their Arab Spring struggle for democratic change. We deeply regret the loss of life to date and the fact that criminal sentences handed down to anti-government protesters have been too severe.

The Bahraini courts have decided to drop several of the lower charges against them, but the more serious accusations still remain. Certain civilians are inappropriately being put on trial in special military courts. So Bahrain does not appear consistently to be upholding civil liberties – specifically the right to appeal and equal access to justice – in a way that meets international standards.

We now look forward to the findings of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry set up by His Majesty King Hamad and hope that it will be a means to prevent any more potential abuses from occurring in the future. The EU must urge the Government of Bahrain not only to show restraint when attempting to control protests but also to engage in an open and constructive dialogue with all of its people – in particular the disenfranchised majority Shia population – and to involve all democratic political parties, including the opposition parties, and recognise the right of the Bahraini people to exercise freedom of expression, association and assembly.

 
  
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  Paul Murphy, author. Mr President, first of all I want to salute the determination and courage of the protestors in Bahrain, who have stood up against absolutely brutal repression in fighting for democratic rights and change in Bahrain.

The hollowness of the supposed commitment of US imperialism to democracy is demonstrated by their continued support for the regime in Bahrain. At the start of this month they sold another 53 million dollars’ worth of weapons to the regime; these weapons will be used, like the weapons before them and like the weapons provided by Britain, to mow down peaceful protestors. The military trial and torture of medical personnel was an indication of the brutality in which the regime engaged. Because of pressure brought upon them, those sentences given by the military courts have now been revoked – they will be given civil trials.

However, we have to say that there is no reason why these medics should be up before any court at all. They are guilty of nothing but treating the injured and should be released immediately. I have no confidence whatsoever in the so-called Independent Commission of Inquiry. This Commission cannot be trusted; what is needed is a genuine people’s tribunal which could actually investigate and expose the gross abuses of human rights by the regime.

There can be no reconciliation or meaningful dialogue with this regime. In my opinion it needs to be overthrown by the Bahraini workers, the Bahraini youth and the Bahraini poor.

 
  
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  Marietje Schaake, author. − Mr President, before a doctor begins to practise, he or she swears to help those in need of medical help, indiscriminately. That is a universally-applied principle.

Bahraini doctors, many of whom were educated here in the EU, did just that. Amidst a violent government-led crackdown on peaceful protesters these doctors risked their lives to assist fellow citizens in need. They have now been convicted by military courts and received draconian sentences of up to 15 years for fulfilling their obligations. The allegations seem fabricated and politically-motivated.

We observe worrying trends. One is that of targeted attacks against doctors and paramedics but, more broadly, military trials for civilians. The abuse of emergency laws is of great concern. That must end. We condemn these highly cynical abuses of power and demand the unconditional release of the Bahraini doctors and all other political prisoners, including bloggers.

It is not only the Bahraini Government that needs to be addressed here; EU companies have played an unpleasant role in the crackdown. Some have been laying off workers at the demand of the government and others have provided surveillance technology. These practices, as well as any and all weapon exports, must stop and human rights must be respected.

 
  
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  Mario Mauro , author.(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the resolution is particularly weighty and detailed, and this is because it is intended to condemn the attitude of the government of Bahrain, which is responsible for the veritable police state that has been created in response to the legitimate and peaceful protests of its people.

The other factor of extreme concern is the recourse to special military tribunals to try civilians. This, as our resolution states, constitutes a violation of international standards on the right to a fair trial, and we must do everything we can to put an end to mass trials of civilians by military tribunals, or the Court of National Security, to be precise.

We call upon the Bahraini authorities to restore and respect all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including pluralism, freedom of expression and of assembly, freedom of religion, women’s rights and measures against discrimination, and to put an end to censorship. This is also important in the light of the precedents of the last few months, because what has happened in the last few months shows us that what is at stake, first and foremost, is the lives of thousands of people, the hope of an entire nation and the future of a country.

 
  
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  Sari Essayah, on behalf of the PPE Group.(FI) Mr President, Commissioner, the Arab Spring has also affected Bahrain. Last year there were already some signs of unrest in Shia areas. The demonstrations intensified in February 2011, and increased unrest lasted until the beginning of June, when a general state of emergency was declared.

Nevertheless, there continue to be human rights violations on the part of the royal family against the demonstrators. Hundreds of people have been detained and many trials held. For example, in the summer, 10 opposition leaders were given life sentences. The sentences handed out to representatives of the opposition and activists have been exceptionally harsh. Furthermore, doctors and hospital staff have been persecuted. This happened, for example, at the start of September, when they were imprisoned and then, later on, freed as a result of western pressure.

We still need to insist that the decisions of the military courts should be reversed and also that civilian trials should be transparent and conform to international standards.

 
  
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  President. − Colleagues, I have information for Mr Ferreira regarding the joint motions for resolutions. The translations of the joint motions, including Portuguese, were already available last night. We do not translate the individual motions any more and that has been the practice for years in this House.

 
  
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  Justas Vincas Paleckis, on behalf of the S&D Group.(LT) Mr President, I support my colleagues who spoke of how the hunger for profit and amoral arms dealing allowed, with the West’s help, anti-democratic regimes to take root in the Arab world. Now they are gradually crumbling. For eight months protesters in Bahrain have been demanding change. Clashes during demonstrations have led to 40 deaths and those arrested are being subjected to physical violence. The Bahrain Government must look around and draw conclusions from the lessons of the Arab Spring. It must release protesters tortured in prisons, give them adequate medical care and rehabilitate them. We call for charges against medics who treated protesters injured during demonstrations to be dropped.

 
  
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  Anneli Jäätteenmäki, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Mr President, the Bahraini popular movement started its peaceful demonstrations last February. People’s calls for human rights and democratic reform were, however, violently put down by the Bahraini security forces. In the course of these events it became clear that the Bahraini security officers were preventing the medical professionals, doctors and nurses from saving the lives of injured demonstrators.

The ALDE Group calls on the Bahraini authorities to stop all the violations and investigate all human rights violations and to allow the High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit the country. We welcome King Hamad’s decision to set up an Independent Commission to investigation the crackdown and violations.

Finally, all peaceful demonstrators and activists should be released.

 
  
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  Ryszard Czarnecki, on behalf of the ECR Group.(PL) Mr President, the Latin proverb pecunia non olet says that ‘money does not smell’. Today, in the course of our debates on Burma and Bahrain, I would like to make it very clear that we are not only discussing Bahrain, but Europe as well. We are discussing European companies that are amassing fortunes at the expense of human rights. Bahrain is a mirror in which today’s Europe is reflected. This must be stated very clearly.

Being a blogger myself, I would like to express my solidarity with our blogger colleagues in Bahrain, who operate under totally different conditions compared to Europe. I believe that it is very important that the European Parliament should take a stand on the issue of human rights in Bahrain, for this is part of building civil society there.

 
  
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  Carl Schlyter, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group.(SV) Mr President, recall the spring of 1848 when Europe’s democratic movements were roused from the ruins. They had a successful spring, but were plagued by internal divisions and therefore the oppressors and the kings were able to return by the end of the year. We must not allow the Arab Spring to meet the same fate. Instead we must defend the people in these countries. People are being imprisoned and subjected to torture, military trials are being conducted and doctors are being prevented from performing treatment, and here we are also talking about doctors who have sworn a two-thousand-year-old oath to treat everybody.

Thousands of Saudi soldiers are invading Bahrain and helping to maintain the oppression. This is another brutal, oppressive regime. We must stop all military exports and we must place requirements on those European undertakings that are exploiting the situation in countries subject to oppression in order to make money. We must also abandon our oil dependency, because that is what gives these dictators control over the oil revenue and maintains their control over these countries. We must finally put a stop to European undertakings exploiting this situation for their own profit.

 
  
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  Marie-Christine Vergiat, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group.(FR) Mr President, first of all, I welcome the fact that we are adopting – and not before time, I might add – a specific resolution on Bahrain.

The wave of protests of the Arab Spring has been brewing in Bahrain since February. Since then, there has been rampant repression there, as in Syria and Yemen. Dozens of peaceful demonstrators have been murdered, arrested and tortured. The repression has also struck doctors and medical staff, whose only crime has been to dare assist the victims of this savage repression. Human rights defenders, lawyers and trade unionists are constantly being harassed. We are witnessing show trials, with death sentences being pronounced in just seven minutes. The least one can say is that the international community has been slow to react and that condemnations of the repression have been weak at best. It has to be said that its important neighbour, Saudi Arabia, is paying close attention. Worse, it has intervened militarily to assist the current regime. Thousands of Saudi soldiers are still on Bahraini soil.

It is difficult not to notice how timid the resolution we are debating today is on this subject, with not the slightest condemnation of this military presence. There have been expressions of ‘deep concern’. That is weak.

Both the Commission and the Council have remained silent. Does Baroness Ashton think she can construct her human rights strategy by applying double standards, while telling us that she wants to ‘start from the facts’? It is time to react and to act on behalf of the Bahraini people.

 
  
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  Jaroslav Paška, on behalf of the EFD Group.(SK) Mr President, the Arab Spring which started in North Africa has spread to most Arab countries, bringing with it a wave of demonstrations, unrest and rebellion against the ruling regimes. This wave of unrest did not spare Bahrain, but the King of Bahrain has decided to stop the protests from spreading. He appealed to security forces from the Gulf Cooperation Council to help him restore order in the country. As a decision taken by the recognised authorities of a country, I believe that the deployment of GCC security forces can be respected. However, the way the Bahraini administration has treated doctors and paramedics going about their ethical duties and treating demonstrators injured by the security forces is worrying. The continuing repression used against demonstrators and political activists has also created misgivings as regards the civilised resolution of political disagreements. The majority of governments in the Arab world have decided to use force against their political opponents. The wiser and more cautious ones, however, have entered into some degree of dialogue with representatives of their discontented subjects and offered solutions and outcomes to resolve the problems by peaceful means by coming to some sort of agreement. I believe that we should advise the King of Bahrain to take the same route.

 
  
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  Franz Obermayr (NI).(DE) Mr President, since the outbreak of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’, there have also been regular peaceful demonstrations in Bahrain. The regime has responded extremely brutally, however, and dozens of demonstrators have been injured or killed as a result.

It is also very sad to learn that doctors who treated injured demonstrators, as they are bound to do by their code of honour, have been sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment for anti-government activity. Treating the wounded is a duty under international humanitarian law and Bahrain is also a signatory to the Geneva Convention.

It is not just the Bahraini security forces that are guilty here, however, as Saudi troops, equipped with Western weapons, were also involved in the massacres.

We must therefore demand that Bahrain should consistently observe human rights and that a truly democratic process should take place. We must take care to ensure that Sharia law is not cemented in place via the back door.

 
  
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  Eija-Riitta Korhola (PPE).(FI) Mr President, the Arab Spring pro-democracy demonstrations also spread to Bahrain, where the arrest of 47 doctors and hospital nurses has recently come to light. They are accused of incitement and using force to try to overthrow the Government, although, in reality, their actual offences are adherence to medical ethics and caring for the injured demonstrators.

It has to be realised that, in Bahrain, the Sunni Muslims, who make up 30% of the population, have ruled the country since the 18th century. It is therefore little wonder, then, that the Shia Muslims, who constitute a majority, are protesting against the monarchy on behalf of their rights, which have been trampled upon. Opposition to reform is reflected both in the harsh sentences handed out to human rights activists without any proper justification as well as the heavy censorship on the Internet. The protests have been forcefully repressed, as usual.

Bahrain should respect international human rights and permit open dialogue, which could be of help in much needed social change. Only later will we be able to analyse the real impact of the Arab Spring.

 
  
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  Corina Creţu (S&D). (RO) Mr President, a report released on Monday by several human rights organisations draws attention to the fact that the wave of protests and changes of regime in the Arab world has led to many countries tightening repressive measures.

Bahrain is one of the most disturbing examples in this respect, given the brutality with which the movement for political and social reform has been supressed. The intervention of the army, including troops from the Gulf Cooperation Council forces, against peaceful protests has resulted in dozens of deaths, hundreds of people injured and many arrests. The decrease in the intensity of protests has not led to a reduction of reprisals. There continue to be reports of arrests of human rights defenders and of unfair dismissals and convictions of health professionals who offered first aid to injured protestors, as well as of detainees being deprived of legal and medical assistance and censorship being imposed on the press and on Internet access. The EU has frequently condemned the violence and acts of repression ordered by the Government of Bahrain, but the situation has remained unchanged.

I believe that we need to continue to press for the release of political prisoners and an end to the prosecution of doctors and persecution on political and religious grounds. I also believe that the Bahraini authorities should urgently commute the death sentences that have been imposed and renounce this barbaric practice. Finally, I wish to express my appreciation concerning the delay in US arms sales to Bahrain until the report of the commission of inquiry is released next week.

 
  
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  Miroslav Mikolášik (PPE).(SK) Mr President, the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ has affected many countries: Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain. We are shocked that in the latter country the regime has also come down hard on those who support human rights, against those demonstrating in the streets for more freedom, for more of the kind of personal advantages we enjoy in the west, and particularly in the European Union. I am shocked that my fellow doctors, nurses and paramedics are being brought to trial and sentenced for as many as 15 years for tending to those who were injured in the streets, those who were fighting for their lives, and whose lives would have been lost without medical care. I am shocked that Bahrain uses the death penalty to eliminate political opponents and I am pleased that today we are passing a resolution in favour of democratisation and progress in Bahrain.

 
  
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  Mitro Repo (S&D).(FI) Mr President, the situation in Bahrain appears to be very grim. The authorities continue to use force, to an unreasonable degree, against peaceful demonstrators calling for democratic change and reforms. The prison sentences of 15 years, received by doctors and health-care personnel for practising their profession, sound especially harsh. These medical professionals were caring for all those injured in the demonstrations, whatever side they were on, and were thus adhering to the ethical rules of their profession. Sentences such as these must be overturned, and these medical professionals must be allowed once again to carry out their responsibilities.

Nor does sentencing civilians in military courts meet the criteria of a fair trial. All the details concerning the arrests of women and children on trumped-up grounds send a worrying signal regarding Bahrain’s ability to act in accordance with its international obligations. Listening to the will of the people is vitally important, and national dialogue must always be genuine.

 
  
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  Jacek Olgierd Kurski (ECR). – Mr President, I am deeply concerned by the situation in Bahrain. Reports of injuries among citizens exercising their right to peaceful protest and among medical professionals attending to the wounded are to be condemned in the strongest terms. Nevertheless, we must be wary of Iranian attempts to gain influence over the protest movement and within Bahrain in general. Iranian control over Bahrain would put Tehran within reach of the Arabian Peninsula and the very large reserves of oil to be found there. In a period when we are still recovering from severe recession, there is significant global interest in making sure the world’s largest proven oil reserves do not fall into Iranian or pro-Iranian hands.

 
  
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  João Ferreira (GUE/NGL).(PT) Mr President, the situation in Bahrain is one of ferocious repression of a people fighting for democracy and freedom, to whom we here wish to express our complete solidarity. Various examples of this repression have been mentioned in this debate. Foreign troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which invaded the country, have taken part in this repression. Let us not forget that this is a country which is home to the biggest United States base in the Persian Gulf and the Fifth Fleet of the US Navy, which is considered a strategic platform for the whole region.

It is time to put an end to this self-serving understanding of human rights, which binds and subjugates them to the geopolitical and geostrategic interests of imperialist powers. It is time to bring an end to this profound hypocrisy, which is clouding the issue of human rights in order to intervene in and carry out acts of aggression against countries and sovereign peoples, so as to plunder their resources, staying silent or speaking out only very quietly against the repression perpetrated by ‘friendly’ regimes, in a shocking show of complacency and even complicity towards these regimes.

 
  
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  Sergio Paolo Francesco Silvestris (PPE).(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, in Bahrain the ruling family has rejected reform for far too long, and like Saudi Arabia, which props it up, believes in the efficacy of repression. The Arab world is in the throes of irrepressible change, however, and not even Saudi Arabia is immune from the wind of change and from the thirst for democratisation and the aspiration for political, economic and social reforms.

Last week, a tribunal in Bahrain sentenced 14 people, including 12 women, to six months in prison for having taken part in an illegal demonstration. The defendants were pronounced guilty of provoking chaos and panic in the population of Manama during a protest inside a shopping centre and were imprisoned for having taken part in a gathering of more than five persons.

Since the middle of February, when the protests in Bahrain against the Sunni monarchy began, hundreds of people have been arrested. The main opposition parties have put forward a peaceful solution to the political crisis taking place since mid-February. The document calls for democratic reforms and a democratically elected government, but these requests have been rejected. The European Union cannot remain silent in the face of these clear violations of the right to demonstrate and of the freedom of expression.

 
  
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  Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the Commission. − Mr President, at the outset I should like to acknowledge the important role this Parliament has played in making sure that the situation in Bahrain remains high on the EU’s public agenda.

As Lady Ashton said in this Chamber two weeks ago, we welcome some recent positive steps, namely the decision to annul the charges and sentences against the medical staff and order a retrial in civilian courts.

However, it is vital that justice is administered fairly and transparently. We remain convinced that a proper investigation in which the right of defence is exercised correctly should lead to these charges being dropped.

We also recall that the medics are just one of the many groups of civilians who have been subject to harassment, unjustified arrest and harsh sentences, including the death sentence. Retrials should be extended to all civilians tried in the National Safety Court.

We are looking forward to the results of the Independent Commission of Inquiry, the announcement of which was publicly welcomed by the EU. We hope that, after it reports in November, action will be taken to follow up on its findings. We are also looking forward to the promised visit by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The Commission of Inquiry should offer a platform for reconciliation. The rifts in Bahraini society can only be addressed through a deep and inclusive national dialogue where all parties can be heard. Clearly, all human rights violations must stop.

Our fear is that the more time passes without positive action, the more difficult it will be to establish meaningful national dialogue. The EU has repeated this essential message – one of encouragement, not mere condemnation – in many public statements and direct contacts between the High Representative/Vice-President and the most senior Bahraini representatives.

Our exchanges with the authorities and with all the parties involved will continue. We all share an interest in Bahrain’s reforms, unity and prosperity. We will also continue to listen to the concerns of peaceful Bahraini civil society and to strongly encourage and support them to continue with the national dialogue and agree on reforms which will benefit all Bahraini citizens.

 
  
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  President. − The debate is closed.

The vote will take place shortly.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Cristian Dan Preda (PPE), in writing.(RO) The events that took place this spring in Bahrain should not become a forgotten revolution. The intervention of Saudi troops may have enabled royal authority to be temporarily restored but, despite our repeated calls, a genuine dialogue with opponents to political reforms has not yet been launched. Recent developments in this country are not at all encouraging. Dozens of demonstrators arrested in February have been brought before special national security courts and have received record sentences (between seven years’ imprisonment and life). Doctors and medical staff from the Manama hospital have also received heavy sentences for the simple fact of having acted ethically by treating Shiite victims of the demonstrations on Pearl Square. Press freedom is also under threat following the prosecution and fining of a number of journalists for spreading false information during the riots.

We cannot operate double standards with regard to the events in North Africa and the Middle East. I therefore believe that the time has come to be very firm with the Bahrain authorities, who should urgently launch a genuine process of democratic reforms which takes account of the aspirations of demonstrators.

 
  

(1) See Minutes.

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