State Department Responds to Bahrain's Denial of Access to Rep. McGovern and Human Rights First
Last week Congressman James McGovern (D-MA) announced that he and I had been refused access to Bahrain. This move by the Bahraini government, just one month after they expelled senior State Department official Tom Malinowski, has further strained tensions between the United States government and Bahrain authorities.
Yesterday State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki was asked by Scott Stearns from Voice of America about the decision by Bahrain – supposedly a close ally of the U.S. – to deny a member of Congress access. She confirmed that that “allowing international observers in [is] … an important component of what they can do to show the international community that they are serious” and that Malinowski has been invited back to Bahrain, and that a trip for him to return is being planned.
This is the exchange:
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Congressman Jim McGovern was denied entry to Bahrain late last week as part of a trip with Human Rights First. That obviously follows closely Mr. Malinowski’s issues there, so do you have a view on that? Have you communicated with the government in Bahrain? Was the State Department involved in making the Congressman’s – or helping arrange his travel?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have raised this issue with the Government of Bahrain. For the specific details, I’d certainly refer you to Congressman McGovern’s office. I believe they’ve been engaging with reporters on this.
Our view is that the Government of Bahrain has much to do in order to meet its own commitments to reform. It’s unfortunate that they have not taken advantage of opportunities to hear from outside observers. There are steps that the government has taken in the right direction, including establishing an ombudsman office in the ministry of interior, reestablishing the national institution on human rights, rescinding the national security agency’s arrest capabilities, training police on human rights standards.
But there are still remaining concerns we have: lack of accountability, for instance, of abuse by security forces; ongoing harassment and imprisonment of persons exercising their rights of freedom of expression; continuing reports of ill-treatment and torture in detention facilities. And obviously, there’s more that they can do to show the international community that they want to keep taking steps forward when it comes to reform.
On Assistant Secretary Malinowski, he has received an invitation to return to Bahrain. There’s a trip that’s currently being planned. I don’t have details on that yet at this point in time.
QUESTION: Is it your view that some of those steps that Bahrain could make that would be useful would be allowing members of Congress, like Representative McGovern, to visit and meet with the civil society groups that he and the Human Rights First delegation were planning --
MS. PSAKI: Certainly allowing international observers in to see some of the progress that’s been made, and certainly have discussed their plans for reform as an important component of what they can do to show the international community that they are serious about moving forward. I don’t have all of the circumstances of Congressman McGovern’s trip and how far down the line it was planned, and so I would encourage you to ask them about those specifics.
QUESTION: Are you upset that a small country that the United States basically protects and keeps a huge naval base in their country and gives it cover – that actually it can snub or thumb its nose at the United States, especially not allowing members of Congress or other people to go in and look at and meet with whomever they want to meet?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I think we expressed clearly at the time when Assistant Secretary Malinowski returned what our views were on that. We’ve – we’ll have those conversations through private diplomatic channels. He has been invited to – back to visit the country. We’ll plan a trip for him to do that. And beyond that, they remain an important partner. Doesn’t mean we don’t have concerns, as I’ve just expressed, where they need to take more steps to put more reforms in place.