Pope Francis urged the Bahraini government on Thursday to renounce the death penalty and ensure basic human rights are guaranteed for all citizens as he arrived in the Sunni-led Kingdom accused by rights groups of systematic discrimination against its Shiite majority.
The leader of the Catholic church, while standing beside King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, also urged the Arab Gulf nation to ensure “safe and dignified” working conditions for its immigrant laborers, who have long faced abuse and exploitation in the island’s construction, oil extraction and domestic service industries.
While diplomatic, Pope Francis didn’t shy from some of the contentious social issues in Bahrain at the start of his four-day visit to participate in a government-sponsored interfaith conference on East-West dialogue and minister to the country’s small Catholic community.
The 85-year-old pope, who has been using a wheelchair for several months because of strained knee ligaments, said he was “in a lot of pain” as he flew to the Gulf. For the first time, he greeted journalists travelling with him seated rather than walking through the plane’s aisle.
Human rights groups and relatives of Shiite activists on death row had urged Francis to use his Bahrain visit to call for an end to capital punishment and to advocate for political dissidents, hundreds of whom have been detained since Bahrain violently crushed the 2011 Arab Spring protests with the help of neighbouring Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. (Source: AP)