UK: Bahrain Institute (BIRD) and MPs voice concern over Bahrain’s elections amidst findings they are a “sham”

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  • Sponsored and moderated by Alistair Carmichael MP, Vice Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Democracy and Human Rights in the Gulf, the event consisted of a panel discussion. Speakers were: Kenny MacAskill MP, Alba Party; Katie Fallon of Campaign Against the Arms Trade; Josie Thum, Senior Research and Policy Associate at BIRD; and Rabab Khaddaj Research and Translation Fellow at BIRD and primary report author. 
  • The parliamentary event comes after an Early Day Motion tabled by Carmichael last week called on the UK government to push Bahrain to free political prisoners, and after cross-party MPs, led by Conservative Father of the House Sir Peter Bottomley, wrote a letter to the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary reiterating these calls and asking the UK government not to recognise the outcome of Bahrain’s elections (read full letter attached).
  • Upon opening the event, Kenny MacAskill MP commented that the UK Government’s support for foreign governments like Bahrain is sometimes stronger than that for the citizens of those countries.
  • Alistair Carmichael MP stated: “Free and fair elections are a lot more than just putting a vote in a box. You have to have a political environment where debate is allowed and not criminalised. Without a debate how do people make a decision? […] Most of all, you cannot have elections in a country with political prisoners. It does concern me as a democrat in the UK and it should concern anyone in the world”. He went on to add: “I would like to raise again my concerns about the Gulf Strategy Fund, the management of that fund is opaque. This should concern all UK taxpayers. I hope the government thinks long and hard about this before congratulating Bahrain”. 
  • Josie Thum presented the key findings and recommendations of the report to the UK and Bahraini governments, and concluded: “these elections will provide nothing more than a false veneer of democracy in a transparent attempt to legitimise what continues to be an undemocratic state ruled by a dictatorial monarchy. Far from serving to fulfill the will of the people of Bahrain, these elections serve the purpose of maintaining the status quo
  • Rabab Khaddaj discussed the repressive legislation which has prevented tens of thousands of Bahrainis from participating in the election, highlighting that “While the government announced a voter turnout rate of 73% for the first round that took place this past Saturday by dividing the number of voters by the voter bloc for 2022, what the government did not tell us is that this voter bloc is manipulated and decreased due to removing the names of individuals who have chosen to boycott the elections in previous years.” She added: “According to our calculations between 94,000 and 105,000 individuals have been excluded from the voter bloc which means that the actual voter turnout rate is a maximum of 57% which is much lower than what is announced and far from being representative of the overall population in Bahrain.”
  • Katie Fallon of Campaign Against the Arms Trade labelled the UK government’s support of Bahrain to be “completely at odds with the UK’s foreign policy priorities, particularly in relation to supporting human rights defenders and protecting free expression. The Foreign Office has repeatedly listed Bahrain as a human rights priority country, specifying issues of concern to include – restrictions on freedom of expression, allegations of human rights violations of detainees, forced confessions, and unfair trials”.
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