Bahraini Political Prisoners

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:05 pm on 13th January 2022.

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Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham 2:05 pm, 13th January 2022

For nearly 53 years, I have been a good friend and supporter of Bahrain as I have watched it develop quickly to become the vibrant country that it is today. When I was elected to Parliament, I immediately joined the Bahrain all-party parliamentary group, and I have been its chairman for three years. I have visited the island several times, especially for the Manama dialogues, and I have given two lectures on principles and decision making to its diplomatic corps—for the record, no money changed hands.

Bahrain has freedom of religion. On my last visit in November, I visited a synagogue—the only one in the Arabian Gulf, by the way, which I think is enlightened for the region in which Bahrain sits. According to the Bahraini constitution, freedom of opinion and expression are expressly protected, and no person can be prosecuted for such activities. I am certain that nobody is in prison simply for disagreeing with the regime. Many have been convicted with evidence—which others may suggest has been tampered with—of being involved in terrorism in one way or another. That is exactly the way we act in this country.

It is a standard terrorist tactic for people accused of terrorism to claim that they are being unfairly treated and that the charges against them are politically motivated, as I know from my own experience in Northern Ireland. However, I am very pleased to say that in November 2019, the public prosecutor’s office in Bahrain announced the release of 75 prisoners, most of whom claimed that they were in prison for political reasons, so it is not true that so-called political prisoners have not been released. I gather that several prisoners face the death penalty, but their executions are in abeyance, at least for the moment—and, by the way, they all killed security personnel and innocent civilians.

I must point out to the House that Bahrain faces considerable terrorist activity—I have seen the concrete evidence for that. Every state has the right to defend itself against such activities, and Bahrain is no different from us. During my last visit in November, I saw a whole range of weapons that had been confiscated in anti-terrorist operations. They included booby traps, anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, mines, rifles and heavy machine guns. From my own experience, I can tell colleagues that some of the ordnance that I saw was very heavy stuff indeed. I also saw a large noticeboard in the police headquarters that seemed to have well over 100 photographs of young policemen and quite a few policewomen who had been murdered by terrorists.

I had been aware before my last visit that Bahrain faced considerable threats from terrorism, but not on the scale of which I saw the evidence last November. The main terrorism that Bahrain faces is inspired from Iran, which is doing all it can to encourage rebellion in the state; it is also where a lot of the weaponry I saw originated from.

Last May, ambassadors from China, France, Italy, Germany and Oman and our British ambassador, as well as the American chargé d’affaires, went to Jau, the main prison in Bahrain. Following that, our own highly experienced ambassador, Roddy Drummond, tweeted:

“I was pleased to visit Jau prison on 3 May with other Ambassadors. We were shown a well-run facility, with good medical provision and measures against Covid, with vaccinations offered to all prisoners. I welcome this initiative by the authorities to be more transparent.”

Bahrain is unfairly portrayed by many who often fail to mention the considerable terrorist threat and the many security personnel who have been murdered. True, there have been mistakes, and Bahrain is not totally there, but, if it has a human rights problem, may I point out that several in the neighbourhood have far worse such records and yet are not pilloried in the same way? The island lives in a volatile neighbourhood, and it is trying its very best with decency to look after its people—all of them.