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Freedom House delegation denied entry

(Freedom House/IFEX) - 23 January 2012 - The Bahraini Government's refusal to allow a Freedom House delegation to visit the country calls into serious question its stated intent to engage in meaningful reform.

On January 19, just days before a delegation of Freedom House staff was scheduled to travel to Manama, it received a letter from the Bahraini government indicating that it would not be allowed entry into the country at this time. In the letter, Bahrain's Ambassador to the U.S. wrote that a trip should be delayed until the end of February. The staff had already obtained visas and were in possession of a letter from the U.S. Embassy confirming a scheduled meeting when they received word of the cancellation.

“By denying or delaying entry to independent international NGOs, the Government of Bahrain is signaling they have something to hide. If they are truly committed to the reforms they have embraced publicly, they will allow civil society and the media unfettered access to the country,” said Robert Herman, vice president of regional programs at Freedom House, and head of the delegation that was to visit Bahrain.

Freedom House had planned to send three staff members to Bahrain to help implement a women's empowerment program funded by the US Government. Freedom House has been working on the ground in Bahrain since 2004, and has been engaged in this regional women's empowerment program since 2010. The Bahraini Government has repeatedly denied entry to staff from international human rights organizations, including Human Rights First and Physicians for Human Rights, even after the release of the Bahraini Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report.

“This development, when combined with the continued repression of non-violent protests and the arrest of human rights activists - all of which has continued to take place after the release of the BICI report - paints a bleak picture of the supposed 'reform efforts' in Bahrain,” said Charles Dunne, director for Middle East and North Africa programs at Freedom House. “Many in the country are concerned that the government will intensify the crackdown as the one-year anniversary of the February 14th uprising approaches,” he continued.

Bahraini citizens have been broadly engaged in protests since February 2011, to call for a more representative government and to denounce the pervading ethnic inequities in the majority Shiite country run by the Sunni Al-Khalifa royal family.

Bahrain is ranked Not Free in Freedom in the World 2012, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2011.

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