Bahraini Political Prisoners

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:53 pm on 13th January 2022.

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Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Father of the House of Commons 1:53 pm, 13th January 2022

I ought to say that the reason I stood late in the exchanges on the Transport Committee statement was that I did not want to come in early. In the role of Father of the House, one often catches the Speaker’s or Deputy Speaker’s eye, but there are occasions when I think it is more appropriate not to come in early, and that was one of them.

When I was first elected to the House of Commons, I became a foot soldier for the Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry, and I was allocated a young man who could not leave the USSR. Several years later, he could. I am not saying that my efforts were dominant in that decision, but it is only when people start making individual initiatives, or protests sometimes, that people pay attention. To those who are listening in Bahrain, there are a number of things one can say about Bahrain that are in their favour. It is probably the only Arab country where a senior Minister was sacked because of a human rights abuse—although that was some time ago. It is also true that in 2006 the human rights organisations said that Bahrain was making significant progress. No human rights organisation has said the same since then, and in the past five years things have got significantly worse.

My right hon. Friend Bob Stewart will be able to talk about his views on whether there are political prisoners or not. On Bahrain National Day, there is usually an amnesty, and the human rights organisations asked that some of the political prisoners be included. None were. If one wants to make a distinction between what is and is not political, that is a useful way of looking at it.

One of the things we said against Bahrain is on the use of torture. If a number of people are convicted only on their own confessions, and then make substantiated allegations of ill-treatment while in custody, one has to say that Bahrain has much further progress to make. Its legal and justice systems will work better when torture is ended. I will not go into a lot of detail, in part because the suddenness of this debate—I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for making it possible—means that I have two other meetings between 2 pm and 3.30 pm on fire safety in residential leaseholds, so I have a responsibility to try to fulfil those commitments. I will leave it to others to make the detailed points on individuals.

I was asked some time back, when Guantanamo Bay was opened up as a prison, whether a human rights organisation, Reprieve, should start taking up some of the cases—not whether people were innocent or not, but whether people should have proper legal representation. I said that it should: to begin with, people would not understand, because obviously everyone who has been taken to Guantanamo must be guilty of some terrible crime, but in time people would realise that a lot of people had been swept up who should not have been there, and even those who should be there ought still to have the chance of legal representation. I am glad that Reprieve reports that one person in Guantanamo Bay has now been allocated for release. I hope that some country will take that person; if the Americans do not want to go on holding them, they ought to have a chance at living at peace elsewhere.

I am not a middle east specialist, but I do understand the consequences of history, and in Bahrain there is a majority community with little access to power or responsibility. That may be one of the underlying reasons why the rulers of Bahrain are resisting doing things that would make life in Bahrain safer, more secure and better for all. I commend to people the Wikipedia article on human rights in Bahrain; it would be useful to those who want to take an interest in the subject. As I conclude, I say to the Bahrainis: “You are not the worst country in the world, but it wouldn’t take many steps for you to become one of the best countries in the world. Please do.”