Tom Brake urges action as Amnesty International accuses government of ‘overlooking human rights’ in Bahrain

Carshalton and Wallington’s Tom Brake has called for Britain to act in Bahrain, as Amnesty International slams the British government for ‘overlooking human rights for commercial benefit’.

The EDM proposed by Mr Brake calls for the government to pressure Bahrain to release its prisoners of conscience, including opposing political leaders.

While the proposed bill has just 17 signatures so far, Mr Brake argues the government has a moral obligation to act in Bahrain.

He said: “Bahrain is a good trade partner of the UK, but this doesn’t mean we have to ignore human rights violations.

“The government, which has a good record on human rights can’t ignore these issues as well.

“We have a good working relationship and this creates opportunities both formally and informally with the government.”

This working relationship includes a defence co-operation agreement, signed in 2012 by Bahrain’s Foreign Minister His Excellency Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa and Secretary of State for Defence Philip Hammond.

The two countries agreed to promote intelligence sharing, education, scientific and technical co-operation along with the joint training of military forces.

However, according to human rights activists, this agreement is one of the reasons the EDM is required.

Vice President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Sayed Yousif Almuhafdah, criticised the British government for prioritising information sharing over human rights.

Sayed Yousif Almuhafdah youtube Bahrain Center Human Rights
‘SHAMEFUL’: Sayed Yousif Almuhafdah slammed the relationship between the two countries (© Bahrain Center Human Rights YouTube channel)

He said: “The sharing of information silences the UK government and allows them to have a military base here.

“It is shameful to have places such as the UK, somewhere with a good record on human rights, a country considered a high civilisation, continuing to look the other way for military and trade benefits.”

Mr Almuhafdah also argued that Britain has exacerbated some of the problems facing Bahrain.

He said: “The British government has played a very negative role in the last five years.

“They have not helped in our struggle for democracy, indeed they have worked against it in their support for the royals.

“We have the highest percentage of political prisoners in the world.

“The UK has chosen to consider and focus on business more than human rights.”

These comments come within a month of Permanent Secretary at the Foreign Office, Sir Simon McDonald, saying that human rights no longer had the same profile they had in the past within the department, and that the prosperity agenda was now ‘further up the list of priorities’.

Philip Hammond HRH Crown Prince Salman Bin Hamad Al-Khalifa of Bahrain flickr Foreign and Commonwealth Office
MEETING IN LONDON: Philip Hammond met HRH Crown Prince Salman Bin Hamad Al-Khalifa of Bahrain in May (© Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Amnesty International also criticised the government’s record, suggesting that Britain was consciously ‘watering down’ the significance of human rights violations in Bahrain.

Amnesty International UK’s head of policy and government affairs, Allan Hogarth, told SW Londoner: “For several years we’ve been extremely concerned that the UK government has downplayed the seriousness of the human rights crisis in Bahrain.

“Soft words from ministers and a big new British military base there give the distinct impression that the UK is turning a blind eye to the real situation in Bahrain.

“We’ve seen a string of arbitrary arrests in the country, with people jailed for peaceful protests and reports of detainees suffering horrendous torture in custody.

“Recent jail sentences handed down against the activists Nabeel Rajab and Zainab Al-Khawaja show that there’s no sign of the repression in Bahrain diminishing.”

Mr Rajab, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and Deputy Secretary General for the International Federation for Human Rights, had been sentenced to six months in jail for insulting government institutions on Twitter, while blogger Al-Khawaja was sentenced to one year in jail for ripping up a photo of the king.

bahrain tweet
The Foreign Office countered Amnesty International’s claims arguing the government is working hard to achieve reform in Bahrain.

An FCO spokeswoman said: “The UK is working closely with the Government of Bahrain to provide extensive reform assistance focused on strengthening human rights and the rule of law.

“This includes support to the Ombudsman’s office for the Ministry of the Interior, the judiciary, civil service capacity building and community policing.

“We see this support as the most constructive way to achieve long-lasting and sustainable reform in Bahrain.

“While it will take time to see the full results of much of this work, the UK is having a direct impact on areas of concern.

The spokeswoman admitted that the FCO was ‘not naïve’ about the problems in Bahrain, and conceded that more ‘needed to be done’.

She explained: “Our strong relationship means that we are able to have frank and honest conversations on human rights at the highest levels with the Government of Bahrain.”

While Mr Brake’s EDM has yet to be debated, Mr Almuhafdah said its very existence would inspire those fighting for human rights.

He said: “This proposal will raise hope among the human rights defenders and those who care about democracy.

“We fully support the bill and urge all members to sign the bill and defend human rights.”

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