7 November 2018 – Yesterday, Lib-Dem peer Lord Scriven wrote an open letter to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) expressing his “extreme disappointment” in their weak response to the life sentence issued against Sheikh Ali Salman on 4 November.
Sheikh Salman is the leader of Bahrain’s largest dissolved political society, Al-Wefaq, and was found guilty by the Court of Appeal of trumped-up charges related to espionage for Qatar, which the Qatari State has also denied. This decision was made ahead of the upcoming “sham” elections which are to be held on 24 November.
Lord Scriven publicly appealed to Ministers Jeremy Hunt MP, Alistair Burt MP, and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon to criticise the verdict and to apply pressure on Bahrain to secure the immediate release of Sheikh Salman.
The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) welcomes Lord Scriven’s support for human rights and democratic reform in Bahrain.
— Paul Scriven (@Paulscriven) November 6, 2018
Lord Scriven’s Letter
I am writing to express my extreme disappointment in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCO) response to the life sentence that was handed to the leader of Bahrain’s largest dissolved political society, Sheikh Ali Salman, on 4 November. I strongly urge the FCO to meet their human rights obligations by urgently condemning this sentence and calling for Sheikh Salman’s immediate release. This issue highly concerns me, therefore please be aware that I have made this letter public.
The US, a strong ally to the Kingdom of Bahrain, with strategic interests similar to those of the UK, had urged Bahraini prosecutors not to pursue the appeal and called for his immediate release. There is no reason that the UK should not be able to follow suit. The EU has also condemned the decision, arguing that it is “in the interest of the long term stability of the country and its citizens” to reconsider his sentence upon appeal. Amnesty International asserted that “Sheikh Ali Salman is a prisoner of conscience who is being held solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom”. Unfortunately, the FCO’s response so far has been extremely weak, offering no explicit condemnation of the life sentence or calling for his release. In refusing to criticise Sheikh Salman’s charges, the UK remains in violation of their own commitment to freedom of speech and expression.
Lords and MPs across all parties have shown interest in the politically-motivated charges brought against Sheikh Salman and the human rights abuses in Bahrain. EDM 509 on the reprisals facing human rights defender Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, which received 81 signatures from all parties, also calls for an end of politically motivated prosecutions, including that of Sheikh Salman.
I am particularly concerned with Sheikh Salman’s case, given Bahrain’s upcoming general elections on 24 November 2018. By sentencing Bahrain’s leading opposition leader a few weeks prior to the elections, the Kingdom of Bahrain has shown a steadfast commitment to silencing any opposition to their rule, thereby highlighting the illegitimate nature of these elections.
The UK’s long-standing relations with Bahrain, including political and financial support through its multi-million-pound technical assistance programme, gives the UK considerable influence over the actions of the Bahraini government. Expressing concern and encouraging the Bahraini government “to deliver on its international and domestic human right obligations” is not enough; it simply emboldens the Gulf kingdom to continue acting with impunity when denying residents their basic rights, such as freedom of expression. The UK, thus, has a moral responsibility to use their position to act urgently on this matter.
I, therefore, urge you to publicly criticise the Kingdom of Bahrain for sentencing Sheikh Salman to life in prison and call for his immediate release and meet the human rights obligations of the UK. I understand that the UK has funded training for the justice programs in Bahrain and regards the Kingdom as a close ally. However, human rights should not be a selective political tool that is only employed when it justifies the needs of the UK; rather, the UK should hold one standard of human rights, and even more so with regard to their allies.