Pope Francis Calls for End to Death Penalty and Religious Discrimination in Bahrain Visit

King Hamad receiving Pope Francis at Sakhir Palace in Bahrain
King Hamad receiving Pope Francis at Sakhir Palace in Bahrain

2022-11-03 - 11:36 م

Bahrain Mirror: Pope Francis urged the authorities in Bahrain on Thursday (November 3, 2022) to abolish the death penalty and commit to guaranteeing basic human rights for all citizens as he arrived in the island kingdom of Bahrain, where systematic discrimination against its Shiite majority has been reported by human rights groups.

Kicking off his four-day visit to the Sunni-led Kingdom, Pope Francis addressed in a speech Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and other government officials, citing the country's own constitution, which forbids discrimination on the basis of sex, origin, language, religion or creed.

Francis, who is the first pontiff to ever set foot in the tiny kingdom, said commitments to human rights "need constantly to be put into practice, so that religious freedom will be complete and not limited to freedom of worship; that equal dignity and equal opportunities will be concretely recognized for each group and for every individual; that no forms of discrimination exist and that fundamental human rights are not violated but promoted."

Referring to the country's recent reliance on the death penalty, Pope Francis said the government must guarantee first and foremost the right to life, and "the need to guarantee that right always, including for those being punished, whose lives should not be taken."

Bahrain's de-facto moratorium on capital punishment ended in 2017. Since then, six people have been executed, according to the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy. The group and Human Rights Watch have documented a "dramatic increase" in the number of death sentences being handed down since 2011, with 26 people currently on death row, half for political activities. The groups have said some were convicted after "manifestly unfair trials based solely or primarily on confession allegedly coerced through torture and ill-treatment."

Human rights groups and relatives of Shiite activists on death row had urged Francis to use his Bahrain visit to call for an end to capital punishment and to advocate for political dissidents, hundreds of whom have been detained since Bahrain violently crushed the 2011 Arab Spring protests with the help of neighboring Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.

The officials and leaders of the Gulf kingdom have been under fire by leading international human rights organizations, as well as the U.S. State Department, for their treatment of the country's Shiite Muslim-majority population, which makes up some two-thirds of the inhabitants of the tiny nation.