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Pope calls for respect for human rights in Bahrain

At the start of a visit to the Gulf State of Bahrain, Pope Francis called for respect for human rights and fair working conditions. Early on in a multi-day trip today, the head of the Catholic Church addressed critical issues in the kingdom and other Persian Gulf states. Francis cited the country’s constitution in which Islam is the state religion.

He spoke of obligations “so that there is no discrimination and fundamental human rights are not violated, but promoted.” The country with a population of 1.5 million has been repeatedly criticized internationally for violations of fundamental human rights. Therefore, several organizations asked the Pope to address the issue during his trip.

Controversial Executions

Referring to the death penalty, which is still practiced there, he now said: “I am thinking in particular of the right to life, of the need to always guarantee it – also with regard to those who are punished and whose lives are not to be.”

According to the human rights organization Human Rights Watch, six people have been executed in Bahrain since 2017. Currently, there are 26 people on death row. King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa can confirm a death sentence, commute it to prison or grant pardons. Before Francis, there never was a pope in Bahrain. The football World Cup is about to start in neighboring Qatar.

Demand for decent working conditions

In his speech, the Argentine also called for “dignified working conditions” and condemned slave labor. Both Bahrain and Qatar – two extremely wealthy countries – are home to numerous South Asian migrants who work there for little money.

May Bahrain be “a beacon” for better working conditions throughout the region, the pontiff said. Several tens of thousands of migrants in Bahrain – for example from the Philippines – are Catholic. The Vatican puts the number of Catholics in the island state at around 80,000.