A statement released yesterday by the United Nations has cast serious doubts over claims made by the state news agency of Bahrain. An article on the website of the Bahrain News Agency (BNA) stated that the King of Bahrain had received a letter from the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. It said the Secretary General “commended His Majesty on Bahrain’s forthcoming elections, and commitment to dialogue and reform,” adding that the UN recognises “the progress made by the Kingdom.”
Although the exact contents of the letter have not been made public, a press briefing by the United Nations multimedia centre painted a very different story to what was published in Bahrain. The briefing said, “The Secretary-General calls on the Government to continue to pursue a genuine dialogue with opposition societies and agree with them on a set of concrete steps towards meaningful reforms that are acceptable to all.”
Calling on the Government to pursue a dialogue and make concrete steps towards reform is certainly a very different message to praising Bahrain’s commitment to those things. Indeed, in calling on the Government to make these steps it is an implicit suggestion that this has not been done prior to this.
But behind this disingenuous reporting by BNA is a deeper drive to use the coming election to put pressure on the opposition. Bahrain’s PR agencies have been working in overdrive in order to talk up any praise for the election and further still, any suggestions from the international community that the opposition should be participating. It is for this reason that the key sentence in the press briefing from the UN is the very last one:
“The UN hopes that the Government will make further efforts to this end prior to the elections.”
This statement shows that the UN is not fully satisfied with the pressing ahead of elections, without a reform process taking place prior. This is in fact in line with the opposition calls who have been arguing that such a process should take place in order to allow the opposition to take part in any vote. And perhaps of more concern is the idea that a private letter to the King would immediately be used as a form of PR, putting to one side the misleading nature of the PR attempts. BNA must have been sent the letter from a source, unlikely the sender of the letter, therefore likely the recipient. This incident speaks a thousand words for how Bahrain treats the international community; as a form of legitimacy in order to approve their actions. It suggests serious international relations come second to the airbrushing of their image and attempts to paper over the cracks caused by the heavy human rights abuses.
Of course this is far from the first time such misreporting has taken place. A recent report by Bahrain Watch highlights the many examples of this in recent years. Furthermore the most recent press freedom report by US based NGO Freedom House labelled Bahrain as “not free” and ranked it 188th out of 197 nations. It is no surprise that the people of Bahrain have 0% trust in the words of their Government.