Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (26:27): I would also like to speak tonight about the situation in Bahrain. Bahrain's human rights situation continues to deteriorate, following the government crackdown against civil unrest that began in February 2011. Over three years ago the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry released its report detailing systematic torture, extrajudicial killing and other acts of violence. This violence has been committed by security forces against peaceful protesters. It is disturbing that since 2011 Bahrain has continued to receive support from Britain through defence ties and arms sales. The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy reports that over the past four years more than 130 individuals have been killed. Over 3,500 individuals have been arbitrarily detained as political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. Torture and enforced disappearance is on the rise, and prominent opposition members continue to serve arbitrary prison sentences. Children are also routinely detained and subjected to abuse and torture.
In Australia, this is an issue that we hear little about. Some former citizens of Bahrain came to speak to me about this situation and to really impress upon me, as a member of parliament, the importance of people in Australia understanding what is happening in their country. Freedom of expression and assembly have effectively been outlawed in the country. Following the implementation of decrees issued by the King of Bahrain, protests, rallies and sit-ins have been banned in the capital and routinely suppressed. New laws mean citizens can now be jailed for up to seven years for insulting the King, flag or national emblem.
Accountability is something the citizens of Bahrain raised with me very strongly. They set out how police officers and government officials accused of severe violations of human rights function within a culture of impunity. Some police officers accused of killing protesters in Bahrain have received only six-month sentences, and that becomes a suspended prison term, while some protesters have received life in prison on freedom of expression charges. Activists continue to face harassment and intimidation, with no independent human rights organisations allowed to function freely in the country. International NGOs, media and other outside observers are routinely denied access into the country, with the UN Special Rapporteur on torture being denied access three times.
I understand that Australia has not spoken out on this issue, and I think that does need to change. I add my voice to the call of Bahrain's citizens living in Australia for Australian diplomatic pressure to call for the release of political prisoners and individuals arbitrarily detained on freedom of expression charges. They have appealed that our government and individual MPs work with Bahraini civil society organisations and human rights defenders to strengthen their capacity and advocacy efforts. There is much that we can do, and I believe we have a responsibility to act.