Pope urges respect for human rights during Gulf trip
Human rights should not be "violated", Pope Francis said on Thursday after he arrived in the Gulf state of Bahrain, which has been criticised by rights groups for alleged abuses.
Religious freedom should be "complete and not limited to freedom of worship", said the pontiff, who had been urged by activists to speak out during his trip to the Sunni-led monarchy.
The pontiff also demanded "safe and dignified" conditions for workers.
Rights for the Gulf's migrant labourers have been in the spotlight in the run-up to the World Cup in neighbouring Qatar, although Qatar says it has carried out far-reaching reforms including the institution of a minimum wage in order to combat abuses.
The pope warned that "much labour is in fact dehumanising. This does not only entail a grave risk of social instability, but constitutes a threat to human dignity".
"Labour is as precious as bread... and often too, it is a bread that is poisoned, since it enslaves," he told assembled dignitaries in the opening speech of his visit.
Men and women, "rather than being the sacred and inviolable end and goal of work, are reduced instead to a mere means of producing wealth," he added.
He was addressing dignitaries including his host King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, hours after arriving in Manama on a trip aimed at fostering ties with the Muslim world.
It is vital that "fundamental human rights are not violated but promoted", said the pope.
"I think in the first place of the right to life, of the need to guarantee that right always, including for those being punished, whose lives should not be taken."
On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch and eight other rights groups called on the pontiff to publicly press Bahrain to "halt all executions, abolish the death penalty, and seriously investigate torture allegations and violations of the right to a fair trial".
They also called on Francis to demand better protections of migrant workers and the release of opposition figures, journalists and others still imprisoned since a crackdown that followed pro-democracy protests in 2011.
A government spokesman rejected the groups' allegations, stating Tuesday that Bahrain "does not tolerate discrimination" and no one is prosecuted for their religious or political beliefs.