Bahraini Political Prisoners

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:58 pm on 13th January 2022.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Independent, Islington North 1:58 pm, 13th January 2022

I put on record my thanks to Brendan O’Hara for securing today’s debate, for visiting the hunger strike outside the Bahraini embassy and for his support for Hassan Mushaima and his plight in prison in Bahrain.

I also went along to support that strike, and as a result I received a letter—a quite substantial letter—from the Bahraini embassy on 24 December. I quote one line from it:

“No person is, or can be, prosecuted for such activities,”— that is, freedom of expression and other issues—

“and no person is arrested or in custody in Bahrain in connection with peaceful political activity.”

Since the Bahraini Government have clearly made that statement, they must live up to it, and that means they must be prepared to answer the questions that various United Nations and other human rights bodies wish to put to them. They cannot simply make such a bold statement and then not be able to substantiate it.

Indeed, the speeches already made indicate that human rights in Bahrain are in an appalling situation, and this is not new. The first time I ever met human rights activists from Bahrain was in 1986 at a United Nations conference I was attending in Copenhagen at the time, and they talked to me about the situation they were facing. I hope that today our British Government will be able to say that we do put human rights, democracy and the right of freedom of speech—all the things enshrined in the universal declaration—first before we start military exercises or military training and providing financial support to this particular regime.

The United Nations Human Rights Council registered its very deep concern that, between 17 April and 5 May only last year, there were reports of 64 cases of torture in prison in Bahrain. There has been a denial of access for human rights monitors and human rights organisations to Bahrain, which has been the very consistent pattern for a very long time. There are also significant concerns, which have not been mentioned so far, about the rights and living standards of the very large number of migrant workers who live and work in Bahrain and keep the economy going.

International visitors have often drawn attention to the living standards and conditions of migrant workers, as they have in other Gulf states, and I think we should be on the side of those migrant workers, who after all do keep the economy going. It is to the credit of Lewis Hamilton and others that they used their substantial media presence to highlight human rights abuses in Bahrain when they were there for the Formula 1 race. The best response of Formula 1 would be to say that it will refuse to go countries where there are significant human rights abuses, rather than expecting drivers individually to make such statements.

There is also the concept of mass trials that go on in Bahrain: 167 people were sentenced in one day in 2019, and 26 are on death row. As the Father of the House, Sir Peter Bottomley, pointed out in his speech, many of the people put on trial have confessed under torture, duress or pressure to crimes they did not commit, or in some cases could not have committed. That would be illegal in this country and illegal anywhere in Europe through the European convention on human rights. There has to be universal acceptance that, whatever crime somebody is accused of, they have a right to legal representation and a legal presence during the investigation. It is not a very big ask to put.

My hon. Friend Richard Burgon, who has had to leave to go to another debate in Westminster Hall, particularly asked me to raise the case of Ali al-Hajee, who is serving a 10-year sentence in Jau prison for organising pro-democracy protests. He was subject to severe torture following his arrest in 2013, leaving him with life-changing injuries, and there was a 75-day hunger strike in prison to support him and others. If the Bahrain Government and embassy are listening to and watching this debate, as I am sure they are, I hope they will bear in mind what I said in quoting from their letter at the start of my remarks. I want an answer on his case, as we do on all the other cases.

I know that time is quite limited and many others wish to speak in this debate, so I will conclude with these thoughts. Bahrain is a member of the United Nations and it is a prosperous place. Bahrain has significant human rights difficulties and problems not unassociated with the relationship of the royal family and the Government of Bahrain with Saudi Arabia and the oppression of democracy protests that has gone on for a long time in Bahrain. Surely to goodness, on this basis alone we should pause all military aid and assistance to Bahrain and pause any support that is given to quasi-Government organisations in Bahrain until it puts its human rights record to rights, because if we support the Bahrain military and police force in their behaviour towards protesters, who are we to complain about abuses that take place?

I am pleased that we are having this debate, and I am pleased by the remarks of the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute and of the Father of the House. When we speak out and take up individual cases, as no doubt other colleagues will, it has an effect and it begins to help. The Bahraini embassy has said that it wants to meet those of us who are concerned about human rights in Bahrain. That is absolutely fine. I am very happy to go along and meet its staff with a list of political prisoners and of people who I believe should not be in prison. They should be subject to the normal rules that the rest of us expect, with an accountable police force, a transparent legal system and prison conditions that do not allow torture or force 12 people into a very small cell, which itself is a torture.

We are here to speak up for justice and human rights around the world, and today our focus is on Bahrain. I hope it is listening.