House debates

Thursday, 16 August 2012


Bahrain: Human Rights

12:37 pm

Photo of Chris HayesChris Hayes (Fowler, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to draw attention to the highly distressing state of affairs in the kingdom of Bahrain. Bahrain is an island off the Saudi Arabia coast in the Persian Gulf and has a population of 1.2 million. Over the course of the past 18 months there have been a number of reports of human rights violations against Bahraini citizens, perpetrated by their own government. The government is reported to have attempted to suppress a move by the marginalised Shiite majority to gain more rights and have a greater say in the decision-making processes of that country. In March this year, troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were invited by the Sunni government to assist in this suppressing of protestors.

Independent observers such as Amnesty International have noted the killing of between 60 and 87 protestors, attacks on doctors who provide medical assistance to those injured protestors, destruction of Shiite mosques and the repression of freedom of speech through the absolute control of the national media. In fact, a number of international journalists have been expelled and visas are no longer being issued to journalists. There is clearly a move to shield the events from the critique and intervention of the outside world.

I often speak in this place about human rights, particularly in Vietnam, and other places, and I often say that Australia as a nation has traditionally encouraged countries in their efforts to move towards freedom, liberty and democracy. However, the Bahrainis' fight for freedom and democracy is often described as the forgotten revolution. It seems to have been overshadowed by the revolutions in nearby countries such as Syria and Egypt. I strongly believe the situation in Bahrain deserves to be equally recognised in this place. I note that my colleague the member for Werriwa moved a motion earlier this year regarding the situation in Bahrain. A motion was also introduced into the New South Wales parliament supporting the protesters and condemning the Bahraini government's human rights violations.

I recently met with the Bahraini Australian Youth Movement, led by their secretary, Mr Ghassan Khamis. They informed me about the truly disturbing stories of torture and repression that were occurring in Bahrain. They told me the story of Mr Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, a prominent human rights activist and co-founder and president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. He was arrested in 2011 for his role in the liberation movement and suffered severe torture. He has since been sentenced to life imprisonment and now his health has been severely compromised due to his prolonged hunger strike.

Human Rights Watch, the United Nations, Amnesty International and other independent international observers have spoken out about these unlawful arrests and trials and have found that the majority of pro-democracy protesters have used peaceful nonviolent methods to express themselves. In this country we often take for granted the many rights, freedoms and privileges that we enjoy, such as the freedom of speech or the right to legal representation, and even our right to medical assistance. It needs to be recognised that a move to democracy is not simple and certainly not easy in many instances. History shows that the quest for freedom and liberty is often a long and tough battle involving true patriots. But it is a battle worth fighting. I will always lend my support to those who pursue freedom and the observance of the human rights of their people, and I ask members of this place to take a similar view in their attitude towards Bahrain.