13 February 2019 – On Monday 11 February, the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) held a parliamentary event to mark the 8th anniversary of the Bahraini uprisings.
At the event, experts, parliamentarians and Bahraini activists spoke about the deteriorating human rights records in Bahrain, and the UK’s foreign policy in the region, while political prisoners shared their testimonies from prison.
Chairing the event was Chris Law MP, who introduced the human rights situation in Bahrain. Chris will become the new chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Democracy and Human Rights in the Gulf. He spoke on the mistreatment of political prisoners, particularly in Isa Town prison, drawing on a number of female political prisoners, who have faced violence and sexual abuse. He also spoke on the re-introduction of the death penalty after a hiatus, and the spike in number of those on death row.
Kirsty Brimelow QC, head of the Doughty Street’s International Human Rights Team and former Chair of the Bar Human Rights Committee, spoke about the legal challenges she faced when dealing with Bahrain. In 2014, she successfully judicially reviewed a decision by the DPP that Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa of the Kingdom of Bahrain was protected from prosecution for alleged torture by state immunity. She made interesting comparisons to when dealing with other countries, such as Colombia, where the FCO was far more accommodating than it has been with regards to Bahrain.
Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP, a Labour politician and member of the International Development Committee, spoke on the UK’s arms exports to Bahrain. One would expect that following the Arab Spring, arms sales would drop for fears of human rights abuses against dissenters. However, the opposite has occurred, with the UK’s arms exports to Bahrain increasing dramatically in recent years. Some of these sales are on a open license basis, such as combat gear and gun silencers, which means precise figures are uncertain. Lloyd stated that after contacting the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) about political prisoner Ali AlHajee, who was on a hunger strike for 76 days, he was disappointed with the inadequate response. Instead of addressing his concerns, the FCO reiterated that human rights concerns should be raised with the Bahraini oversight bodies, which have routinely proved to be inefficient.
After a short break, Ali AlFayez, a political activist from Bahrain who was imprisoned during the 90s, spoke of his experiences and those of other activistists. He sent a powerful message stating that violent tools used to suppress the will of the people will never work.
Dan Dolan, Deputy Director at Reprieve, spoke on the failure of the UK funding and oversight bodies, which compound the human rights abuses. While the UK has spent more than £6 million pounds in assistance, the number on death row has tripled. The two UK funded bodies, the Ministry of Interior Ombudsman and the Special Investigations Unit, have continued to cover up cases of torture and forced confessions. Dan called for greater transparency and more robust investigations.
We then listened to two female political prisoners, Hajer Mansoor and Najah Yusuf, who via an audio message, informed the attendees of the abuses and mistreatment they have suffered at the hands of the Bahraini State. During the questions and answers, concerns were raised about whether these women would face further reprisals for speaking out at the event.
Finally, Lily Chamberlain, the Advocacy Associate at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy and Secretariat for the APPG on Democracy and Human Rights in the Gulf, spoke further on the abuse that female political prisoners face. She spoke about the twelve female political prisoners held at Isa Town prison. These women have faced incredible mistreatment, including rape, sexual assault, violence and threats, all of which contravene the Mandela Rules, that is the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.
The discussion was followed by a question and answer session, in which panellists further highlighted the need for MPs to raise these human rights issues and pressure the UK Government, and the implications Brexit may have on future relations with Bahrain.