My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord for initiating this debate. Alistair Burt said at the end of last year that, in considering the differing opinions about Bahrain, there are elements of truth on both sides. Compared to most of its close neighbours, women have greater freedom, as we have heard; there is greater freedom of worship; and human rights are a good deal better.
The Government argue that a strong partnership is based on mutual interest, shared threats and a desire to promote greater security and peace in the Gulf, exemplified, as the noble Lord said, by the UK naval support facility. Alistair Burt suggests that this strong partnership means that we can express our concerns about human rights in a frank and open way—publicly, but more often in private. There is no doubt that there is merit in the engagement approach; working with international partners and civil society organisations to promote and defend universal freedoms and to bring about positive change. But how are the Government measuring the success of engagement in achieving positive change?
Freedom House suggests that Bahrain is more oppressive and less free than it was six years ago. As reported in the Guardian, last November’s general elections were considered to be a sham, prohibiting members of opposition groups from running. Reprisals targeting protesters, journalists and human rights defenders have become commonplace. As we have heard, the only independent newspaper was forcibly closed in 2017. There is currently an estimate of 4,000 political prisoners.
What is the Government’s view on the situation of human rights defenders in Bahrain? What assessment has been conducted about our investment? On what basis does the FCO deem that the oversight bodies in Bahrain are independent, effective and capable of conducting swift and thorough investigations?
Finally, as we have heard, executions resumed in January 2017. Will the United Kingdom publicly call on the Bahraini Government to abolish the death penalty?