Bahraini Political Prisoners

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:10 pm on 13th January 2022.

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Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 2:10 pm, 13th January 2022

I congratulate Brendan O'Hara on securing time for the debate and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing it. I remind the House of my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests: namely, that I am a director of the board of the Council for Arab-British Understanding and an officer of a number of the all-party parliamentary groups relative to the Gulf, including the one chaired by the hon. Member.

I thank Bob Stewart for his contribution to the debate, which illustrated rather well the challenge that we all have—I include the Government—in this area: maintaining the appropriate balance. My consideration of the situation in Bahrain leads me to be most concerned about human rights abuses. We see the comments of Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other human rights organisations that have taken an interest in Bahrain, and those people have no axe to grind other than because they have a concern for human rights.

I say to the Minister that, in striking the balance—as we must do—the Government have some way to go in getting it right. I understand the strategic importance of Gulf countries to the United Kingdom and of engagement with them. I also understand that sometimes we have to engage with a long-handled spoon, as it were, but I suggest that engagement is worthwhile only if we can see progress and a benefit from it, especially in the maintenance in human rights, and that the money we spend on countries such as Bahrain must show a rather better return than we have seen so far.

It concerns me that, last year, the Home Secretary met Bahrain’s Minister of the Interior, Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah al-Khalifa, in the wake of an appallingly violent attack against political prisoners in Jau prison in which inmates were subjected to mass torture and enforced disappearance at the hands of the authority. The meeting also took place following the arrest and abuse of 13 children who were subjected to threats of rape and electric shock. The United Kingdom ambassador to Bahrain, Roddy Drummond, also met Sheikh Rashid just a few weeks ago.

Members of the House have heard me speak on numerous occasions about the case for Magnitsky sanctions in relation to several officers of the Chinese Communist party. I give every credit to the Government for their progress on that, especially in relation to those who are active in the Xinjiang region. However, I must say to the Minister that we undermine our good work on China and other regimes if we do not approach Governments in places such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain with equal vigour. That is what I mean in talking about balance.

In replying to the debate, will the Minister address the reasons for the Government refusing to act against Minister Rashid al-Khalifa for his role in overseeing appalling human rights violations and a culture of impunity? That is a man who was responsible for the bloodiest days of the crackdown in 2011. Protestors have been detained and tortured at the hands of his officials.