Wednesday, 28 March 2018
Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (18:53): A number of people from Bahrain have come to see me in Sydney to speak about their deep concerns about what has been happening in their country for a number of years. In February 2011 pro-democracy protests began in Bahrain. They called for constitutional and political change. They wanted a more democratic electoral system. They wanted corruption to stop. They spoke to me of their concern about the discrimination against the Shiites, who represent about 60 per cent of the population.
The work of pro-democracy protesters has often been misrepresented. That's not surprising when you look at the actions of the government of Bahrain. It has been linked with various violent responses to democratic protests and human rights abuses. Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, Amnesty International and Freedom House have found that the work of pro-democracy protesters has been misrepresented a number of times.
It is particularly disturbing to read a report from the Physicians for Human Rights that Bahrain's security forces have targeted health professionals by actually abducting health workers, abusing patients and making it very hard for these people to undertake their work. The Bahrain government has also expelled many journalists. When you look at the media coming out of Bahrain, it's very hard to find objective reports. Sadly, some of the reports coming from the Bahrain media actually run stories that it's legitimate to attack pro-democracy protesters. International journalists barely cover this part of the world at the moment.
I have had the opportunity to meet some of the former MPs in that country. Mr Matar and his al-Wefaq colleagues resigned from parliament in early 2011 to protest the regime's persistent crackdown on peaceful pro-democracy protests. Mr Matar was actually imprisoned and tortured. Again, the stories are deeply disturbing, and my concern is added to by how little we read in this country about what these people are facing. They have faced down tanks and they have faced down armed soldiers.
At the moment, there is a real whitewashing happening of what's going on in Bahrain. Interestingly, a lot of it is being done through elite sport. There's the Bahrain Merida team. They were in the Tour de France. Many of us enjoy watching the Tour de France late at night. The Bahrain Merida team has established itself on the world circuit. It's now come a credible sixth place. But there is a real concern about the cycling team, along with the Formula 1 Grand Prix, which is a fixture in Bahrain, the Royal Windsor Horse Show and the International Triathlon Union. It is wonderful that these sporting events are occurring in that country, although they are elite sporting events and wouldn't be accessible to most people.
I certainly don't want to be criticising the sports themselves, but there are increasing reports that it is about image laundering—and FIFA has been caught up in it. The Guardian newspaper have taken this up. They've sought responses from these various sporting bodies on how they've taken up the issue of human rights abuses considering, often, the people from Bahrain associated with these elite sporting events are under a cloud with regard to their own actions in Bahrain. Some of the statements from these elite bodies are really quite weak. Some of them have not responded at all, like the Royal Windsor Horse Show. You'd think they would surely come forward with a clear response.
Sheikh Nassar, who is the son of the ruling king, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, is very prominent in many of these sports. The Australian government really does need to be asking questions here, working with the people of Bahrain, because the situation at the moment is deteriorating. The fact that they are using sports to try to sanitise the situation in their country should alert us that we need to stand up for human rights in Bahrain.