Shia activists cry out as Pope Francis makes first trip to Bahrain

Pope Francis boards the Papal plane for Cyprus

File Photo: Pope Francis boards the Papal plane for Cyprus

Pope Francis will begin a four-day trip to Bahrain on Thursday, his second official visit to the Gulf following his journey to the UAE in 2019.

The visit has sparked calls from the country’s majority Shia opposition and human rights activists for the pontiff to raise human rights concerns in the small island nation.

The island off the coast of Saudi Arabia is ruled by a Sunni monarchy that violently quashed the 2011 Arab Spring protests there with the aid of allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

In the years since, Bahrain has imprisoned Shia activists, deported others, stripped hundreds of their citizenship, banned the largest Shia opposition group and closed down its leading independent newspaper.

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“There’s a huge elephant in the room in this situation,” said Devin Kenney, Amnesty International’s Bahrain researcher.

“The watchwords of this visit are coexistence and dialogue and the Bahraini government suppresses civil and political freedoms, without which coexistence and dialogue cannot be sustained.”

Bahrain maintains it respects human rights and freedom of speech, despite facing repeated criticism by local and international rights activists, as well as UN human rights special rapporteurs.

Francis is making the visit to participate in a government-sponsored conference on East-West dialogue and to minister to Bahrain’s tiny Catholic community, part of his effort to pursue dialogue with the Muslim world.

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