8 November 2019 – Women activists and human rights defenders in Bahrain have been subjected to “serious crimes” including physical and sexual assault while the UK’s policies “enable human rights violations in the country,” cross-party leaders said in a letter to the Prime Minister sent on Tuesday, before Parliament dissolved for the upcoming election. The letter was reported by The Independent this morning.
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford, Lib-dem leader Jo Swinson, Plaid Cymru Westminster leader Liz Saville Roberts, and Caroline Lucas from the Green Party, raised the cases of four Bahraini women who have fallen victim to the government’s crackdown on dissent which has intensified since 2017. As revealed in a joint-report released in September by the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) and Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain, this crackdown has increasingly targeted women.
Two women featured in the report, Najah Yusuf and Ebtisam AlSaegh, both reported being sexually assaulted by officers from Bahrain’s National Security Agency during interrogations in 2017. Najah was imprisoned for criticising Formula One’s Bahrain Grand Prix on social media, while Ebtisam was targeted for her human rights activism.
Several of the women, including Hajer Mansoor and Medina Ali, remain detained at Isa Town prison where they are subjected to systematic harassment. The case of Hajer Mansoor, who was imprisoned in reprisal for the activism of her son-in-law Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, has been raised with the UK government by multiple parties around both chambers.
The signatories criticised the government’s foreign policy toward Bahrain, pointing out that that the UK “is not only allied to Bahrain, it provides significant funding and training through Foreign and Commonwealth Office programmes, and trades large quantities of munitions with the country” and does so “amid a complete lack of transparency.” This includes £6.5m of taxpayer’s money spent funding training to local oversight bodies, including the Ministry of Interior Ombudsman and the National Institute for Human Rights, which have been criticised for their lack of transparency and independence by the UN.
They also emphasised that “the UK’s relationship with Bahrain further compromises the credentials of the UK as a country that shows leadership in promoting and tackling human rights abuses” and demanded that the women’s case be raised “directly and at the highest levels” with Bahrain with the view of securing their release. They also urged that training to abusive or ineffective bodies be suspended.
Leading politicians @IBlackfordSNP @joswinson @LSRPlaid and @CarolineLucas wrote to the PM highlighting UK role in emboldening “serious crimes” against women activists in #Bahrain, calling for their release & an independent investigation. pic.twitter.com/MgJfEGGYBg
— BIRD (@BirdBahrain_) November 8, 2019
Ian Blackford, SNP Westminster Leader, said: “The Government of Bahrain has time and time again been found to have not just fallen short in upholding human rights, but has actively violated them. In a report published last month, the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy documented a number of serious crimes against women activists and human rights defenders that have been committed by officials of the Government of Bahrain. That must not be allowed to go unchallenged.
What is concerning is that despite the long list of evidence the UK government remains a close ally of Bahrain, and worryingly it provides significant funding and training through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
I, along with other opposition figures, have written to the Prime Minister urging the UK government to review the UK government’s relationship with Bahrain, address the cases directly at the highest level with the authorities in Bahrain, and calling for an investigation into the actions of the perpetrators along with the view of securing the immediate release of women activists and human rights defenders. A UN-led commission must also be allowed to investigate reported torture abuses and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture must be permitted access to Bahrain’s prisons.
The UK cannot sit idly by on this matter and we will continue to hold the UK government to account over its links with the Bahrain Government, and using its relationship to stand up for human rights.”
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy at BIRD, commented: At a time when attacks on female activists and human rights defenders are increasing across the GCC, it is a travesty that the UK government remains unwilling to criticise their Gulf allies. This letter by leading politicians representing progressive parties is an important landmark, demonstrating that Bahrain’s mistreatment of female detainees can no longer be swept under the carpet.
It is time for the government to publicly condemn abuses against women by their Bahrain counterpart and do everything within their power to secure their release. This includes suspending the technical assistance programme to Bahrain, which has demonstrably failed to halt the abuses and bolstered the climate of impunity that pervades throughout the country.