I thank the Deputies for raising this issue. It is, of course, a matter of grave concern for the Government that, eight years on from the beginning of the 2011 pro-democracy protests, Bahrain has not progressed in the way we had hoped. In fact, it has become an increasingly restrictive society, civic society space has contracted significantly and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of expression and association, are violated with worrying frequency. There are reports that the elections of last November took place in an environment that stifled dissent, and recent reports of torture and other inhumane and degrading treatment in regard to detained persons are especially distressing. We urge all states to safeguard the rights of prisoners and detainees, and our voice has been prominent in highlighting this particular thematic issue.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is engaging with the Government of Bahrain, and this includes with its embassy in London, on a range of issues, including the ones I have outlined. Given the long-standing bilateral links between Ireland and Bahrain, for example, on the training of medical personnel, raising Ireland's concerns about human rights and freedom of expression in Bahrain is a prominent part of the dialogue we have on an ongoing basis. The Bahraini Government has given repeated commitments that it is taking action to improve the human rights situation and to safeguard rights which are enshrined in its constitution. However, the facts are very clear and the facts on the ground show that it has yet to live up to those commitments. I take this opportunity again to call on the Bahraini Government to follow through on its obligations.
The Deputies have raised many issues of concern, in particular in regard to specific people who have been detained. I am aware there is particular consciousness of Sheikh Ali Salman, secretary general of what was once Bahrain's largest opposition political party, who was sentenced to life in prison in November of last year. This is something we are monitoring and are extremely concerned about, particularly in regard to Sheikh Ali Salman's trial but also other trials in recent times.
Protection of fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression and opinion, is a cornerstone of our foreign policy. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade receives regular reports from NGOs on the situation in Bahrain. As a small country, Ireland amplifies its voice on human rights issues through multilateral engagement and measured recommendations offered as part of constructive dialogue. We continually advocate in favour of a free and fair democratic process and for the right of civil society actors and human rights defenders to operate in a safe environment, but also without fear of reprisals for speaking out. Ireland also urges all states to safeguard the human rights of prisoners and detainees, and is committed to the prevention and eradication of torture and other forms of cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.
Deputy Niall Collins raised the issue of the UN Human Rights Council. Ireland has always used the Human Rights Council as a means of keeping human rights issues in Bahrain under examination. We have raised Bahrain in the past eight statements on human rights situations that require the council's attention and I assure the Deputies we will raise the matter again in the upcoming meeting. We have expressed concern about the restrictions on civil society space and the treatment of human rights defenders in Bahrain, and called on Bahrain to respect freedom of opinion and expression and the right to a fair trial. At the Human Rights Council in June last year, the statement by the European Union also highlighted the deterioration of the human rights situation in Bahrain, with particular reference to the shrinking of political space. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade constantly monitors developments in regard to human rights in Bahrain and will continue to call on the Bahraini Government to deliver on its stated commitment to making progress in all of these areas of human rights.
It is important to say that we have positive bilateral relations with Bahrain, which is home to some 800 Irish citizens, but this does not prevent us from raising the concerns through the appropriate channels, whether it is directly with Bahraini officials or at an international level with our colleagues throughout the European Union and, of course, at the UN Human Rights Council.