Bahraini Political Prisoners

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:41 pm on 13th January 2022.

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Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) 2:41 pm, 13th January 2022

My understanding is that the United Nations is already engaging with Bahrain on a number of the issues that the right hon. Gentleman has put forward. I have a number of other points that I wish to address, and I have been generous, so if the House will forgive me, I do not intend to take any more interventions so that the next debate can take place in good time.

A number of Members have highlighted performance indicators and demonstrations or approvals of our involvement. Our close relationship with the Bahraini Government and civil society, including non-governmental organisations, gives the UK a privileged position to positively influence developments on human rights. We draw on 100 years of probation experience, for example, and we are using it to encourage and support Bahraini-led judicial reform. We welcome the steps taken by the Government of Bahrain in reforming their judicial process, including the introduction of alternative sentencing legislation. I know that a number of people in incarceration have been offered alternatives to it. To date, more than 3,600 individuals have had potential prison time replaced by alternative sentences, and further cases remain under consideration by the judiciary.

Our work has supported the effective establishment of independent oversight bodies—the ones that Patricia Gibson would seek to destroy—including the National Institute For Human Rights, the Ministry of Interior Ombudsman, the Special Investigations Unit, and the Prisoners and Detainees Rights Commission.

Members have highlighted examples of completely inappropriate behaviour by Bahraini officials. I remind the House that more than 90 security personal have been prosecuted or face disciplinary action because of investigations carried out by human rights oversight bodies that the UK Government support. We believe that Bahrain is undertaking important and effective steps to address allegations of torture and mistreatment in detention.

We strongly welcome the initiative that Bahrain has taken to develop an inaugural human rights plan. It is taking an inclusive approach, welcoming contributions from us and from the United Nations, which Jeremy Corbyn was so passionate about earlier. We look forward to the publication and implementation of the plan, which we expect will deliver further reforms in Bahrain.

We of course recognise that there is more work to be done. To reinforce the point that I made to the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute, Lord Ahmed and I have made and will continue to make these points directly to our ministerial counterparts in Bahrain, and because we enjoy a strong working relationship with them, I know that they will listen to us.

I am not able to go into details case by case, but Ministers and senior officials closely monitor cases of interest of those in detention in Bahrain, and indeed in many other countries. That is a core part of the support Her Majesty’s Government gives to human rights and democracy. Where appropriate, we bring those cases to the attention of those at ministerial or senior official level in partner countries. It is important to highlight that those currently under detention have been tried and convicted of crimes and sentenced under Bahraini law, as my right hon. Friend Bob Stewart said. The right to fair trial is enshrined in the constitution of Bahrain, and we will continue to encourage the Government of Bahrain to follow due process in all cases and meet their international and domestic human rights commitments.

Bahrain remains an important partner and friend of the United Kingdom. We commend the progress that it has made on human rights and the ambition for the further development of political, social, economic and governmental institutions. The Father of the House, my right hon. Friend—