Bahrain: emir declines to participate in national dialogue

In interests of neutrality, amid ongoing nationwide turmoil

04 March, 16:37

Bahrain's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa Bahrain's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa

(ANSAmed) - DUBAI, MARCH 4 - While the country continues to repress dissidents in the face of a damning report from Human Rights Watch, the emir of Bahrain on Monday declined to participate in the ongoing national dialogue, either in person or through a representative.

''King (Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa) considers all parties in the national dialogue as equals and therefore maintains an equidistant position because the sovereign is one and he is for all,'' read a communique issued by royal spokesman and minister, Sheikh Khalid al-Khalifa. The national dialogue kicked off on February 10 in an effort to reconcile a nation torn apart by the violent repression of popular protests sparked by the Arab Spring of 2011.

In this Shiite-majority country ruled by a Sunni Muslim monarchy, initial demands for more democratic institutions and less discrimination degenerated into sectarian revolt. It was quelled at the cost of 40 lives, following an intervention by troops from Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.

Dialogue participants include representatives from six opposition blocs, ten political movements, parliament and the government. They have met five times so far.

The dialogue almost unraveled following the deaths of a young protesters and a policeman during street clashes two weeks ago. At the last meeting, opposition delegates called on the emir to sit in.

His refusal in the interests of neutrality follows on a February 28 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report accusing Bahraini authorities of not fulfilling promises of reform, liberating political prisoners, and punishing officers found guilty of torturing dissidents during the uprising of February-March 2011.

The interior ministry merely said the HRW report is filled with ''contradictions, inaccuracies and inconsistencies''.

Meanwhile, an appeals court sentenced Zeinab al-Khawaja to three months in prison for insulting a public official, overturning an initial acquittal. Her father is renowned Shiite activist Abdul Hadi al-Khawaja, who led demonstrations in Manama's Pearl Square and whose long hunger strike catapulted him onto front pages around the world. He was sentenced to life in prison.

The smallest of the Gulf oil monarchies, Bahrain hosts the Fifth Fleet of the US Navy. (ANSAmed).

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