Posted: 10/21/2014 7:00 am EDT
A failed effort by a public relations company representing Bahrain and a UK law firm acting on behalf of Prince Nasser bin Hamad al-Khalifa, the commander of Bahrain’s Royal Guard and head of its National Olympic Committee, to micromanage media coverage of this month’s lifting of the prince’s immunity by a British court reflects mounting unease in the island state and international sporting associations. The court decision opens the door to a British police investigation into whether or not Prince Nasser was involved in the torture of political detainees that could include three former players for the Bahraini national soccer team.
The five-day long effort by UK-based Bell-Yard Communications Ltd and London law firm Schillings was aimed at forcing this writer as well as The Huffington Post to adopt Bahrain’s narrow and partial interpretation of the court decision. That interpretation involved an inaccurate assertion that no investigation into whether or not Prince Nasser had been involved in torture of detainees could emerge from the court decision, that immunity had not been part of the grounds on which the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) had initially refused to investigate, and that soccer players had not[h]ing to do with the investigation.
The lawyers and PR representatives appeared particularly concerned about the assertion that the investigation could involve soccer players presumably because of the implications that could have for Prince Nasser’s Olympic status as well as that of a relative of his, Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, the president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), and according to the state-run Bahrain News Agency, the prince’s number two at the Bahrain Olympic Committee and the island state’s Supreme Council for Youth and Sport.
The UK High Court lifted Prince Nasser‘s immunity in a case initiated by several Bahrainis who alleged that they were tortured in the aftermath of a popular uprising in Bahrain in 2011 that was brutally squashed by Saudi-backed security forces. The Bahrainis went to court after the CPS had refused to issue an arrest warrant for the prince on the grounds that his status in Bahrain granted him immunity in the UK. The prosecution said further that evidence submitted had been insufficient to justify an investigation. Because Prince Nasser was not a party to the proceedings, he had no opportunity to respond to the allegations in court.
The lawyers and PR representatives sought to have removed any reference in this writer’s article to a potential investigation or that immunity had played a role in the CPS’s thinking despite the fact that the prosecution in a statement to the court agreed to the lifting of Prince Nasser’s immunity in expectation that the Bahraini plaintiffs would submit further evidence. Lawyers for the plaintiffs said after the court hearing that the ruling opened the door to an investigation and that they would be providing additional evidence.
This writer corrected after publication a factual error in the original story. The story originally reported that an investigation had been opened rather than that the court ruling opened the door to an enquiry.
Nonetheless, in attempting to prevent fair and honest reporting, the lawyers and PR agents contradicted themselves. The attempt to force deletions that would have substantially altered the core of the story occurred despite the fact that Bell’s Melanie Riley had provided to this writer the statement of the prosecution to the court.
The prosecution said in the statement that “in the light of the Claimant’s intention to submit further evidence to the police (who are responsible for investigating the allegations), the Crown Prosecution Service has agreed to state to the police its view that immunity should not be a bar to any such investigation on the evidence currently available.”
Bahraini concern that the possible fallout of the court decision could affect not only Prince Nasser but also Sheikh Salman was evident in an email from Ms. Riley assertion that “there is no relevance to the AFC of yesterday’s proceedings.”
Sheikh Salman, according to information submitted to the prosecution, headed a committee established in 2011 by a decree by Prince Nasser to take measures against those guilty of insulting Bahrain and its leadership. Prince Nasser formed the committee after an earlier royal decree had declared a state of emergency. The royal decree allowed the Bahrain military to crackdown on the protests and establish military courts, according to the information provided to the prosecutor.
Sheikh Salman, a former soccer player who also serves as head of the Bahrain Football Association, is running next year in AFC presidential elections, which if he wins would give him an automatic seat on the executive committee of world soccer body FIFA.
The prosecutor was further furnished with a publicly available video clip in which Prince Nasser called for the punishment on television of those including athletes who participated in anti-government demonstrations. More than 150 athletes and sports officials, including the three national soccer players, were arrested or dismissed from their jobs at the time. Many have since been reinstated.
The failed Bahraini effort to micromanage reporting of Prince Nasser’s case, involving insinuations that this writer’s report was defamatory and demands that their unsolicited correspondence to a US publisher not be reported on, reflects greater sensitivity to image and reputation of Gulf states that also include the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, who stand accused of violations of human and labour rights. All three states have been put to varying degrees under the magnifying glass because of their hosting of major events, including the 2022 World Cup, the 2020 World Expo, Formula-1 races and ambitions to host similar events like the Olympic Games as well as their association with prominent educational and cultural institutions such as New York University and the Guggenheim Museum.
The various states have used different strategies to counter allegations of violations of human and labour rights. While Qatar has by and large engaged with its critics, Bahrain and the UAE have sought to prevent negative reporting by barring critical journalists and academics from entering their country.
Qatar, despite its engagement with human rights groups and trade unions, has not been immune to such tactics. Saleem Ali, a former visiting fellow at the Qatar-funded Brookings Doha Center, told The New York Times that he was advised during his job interview that he could not take positions critical of the Qatari government. At the same time, Qatar has sought to win hearts and minds in the United States with the establishment of Al Jazeera America, part of its global television network, and the expansion in the US of its belN sports television franchise.
Qatar’s strategy backfired when Britain’s Channel Four disclosed that the Gulf state had hired Portland Communications founded by Tony Allen, a former adviser to Tony Blair when he was prime minister, to create a soccer blog that wrongly claimed to be “truly independent” and represent “a random bunch of football fans, determined to spark debate,” but in fact served to attack its detractors.
For its part, the UAE has spent lavishly on public relations engaging, according to The Intercept, a US firm to demonize Qatar because of its support for the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups. The UAE is also suspected of supporting a network of Norway and France-based human rights groups that sought to project the Emirates as a champion of human rights despite crackdowns that have involved political trials denounced by international human rights groups and derided Qatar’s record.
Disclosing the UAE’s efforts to shape reporting in the US media, The Intercept noted that “the point here is not that Qatar is innocent of supporting extremists… The point is that this coordinated media attack on Qatar – using highly paid former U.S. officials and their media allies – is simply a weapon used by the Emirates, Israel, the Saudis and others to advance their agendas.”
This video is called Hidden Slavery: Journalists detained after filming World Cup labor horrors in Qatar.
From daily The Hindu in India:
September 23, 2014 02:52 IST
T. Karthikeyan (32), a fisherman from the Thirupalaikudi fishing hamlet, who had gone to Bahrain for a fishing job, was shot dead by Qatar police, when he was fishing on the high seas along with three other fishermen on Sunday evening.
Karthikeyan and three other fishermen had set out from Bahrain in a fibre glass boat, according to reports received here.
While Karthikeyan died in the firing, the other three fishermen escaped unhurt.
The Qatar police took away the body and arrested the three fishermen, M. Samayamuthu (28) from Thirupalaikudi and A. Raju and R. Ayyappa from Damodaran Pattinam in the district’s Thiruvadanai block, the reports said.
The deceased fisherman is survived by his wife K. Ezhuvakkal (28), daughter Karishma (8) and two sons — Thirumurugan (3) and Balamurugan (one-and-a-half years).
Talking to The Hindu over phone from Bahrain, S. Thamaraiselvan, a fisherman from Thirupalaikudi said Karthikeyan and the others were to return on Monday morning after a nightlong fishing expedition.
By Steve Murphy in Britain:
Shocking abuse of Qatar’s migrant workers
Monday 22nd September 2014
STEVE MURPHY spotlights the disgraceful treatment of construction workers in the richest country in the world
There are 1.4 million migrant workers in Qatar, the majority of whom come from the Indian subcontinent — Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Nepal.
When I visited Qatar this spring the experiences and the living conditions of the workers I met shocked me to the core.
I met workers who were paid just 57p an hour and required to work 12-hour days, six days a week. In the summer months temperatures can reach 50°C.
Incredibly, even with the very low pay, workers often report being unpaid for months on end, which puts them in debt and means that they cannot send money to their families.
The safety and welfare of construction workers is a massive issue. In recent years over 1,200 construction workers from India and Nepal have died in Qatar.
In the majority of cases the cause of death for these young and fit workers has been attributed to “natural causes.” By recording deaths in this way, employers do not have to pay compensation to the workers’ families.
The living conditions of migrant workers are horrendous. I visited migrant labour camps where nine workers were forced to share a tiny room, where 200 workers were required to share just five toilets and where the workers were required to cook in filthy cockroach-infested kitchens.
In some camps there was not even access to drinking water and only salt water was provided.
The employer controls everything about their time in the country, including when they can leave.
The minimum time before a worker can leave is two years, however workers report that often they have to stay far longer because the employer denies them permission to go home. In many cases, and despite it being illegal, the worker is forced to give the employer their passport.
Earlier this year Qatar announced that it intended to reform the kafala system. This is a sham — the simple truth is you can’t reform slavery, it has to be abolished.
Migrant workers do not have any kind of employment rights and freedom of association and collective bargaining are banned.
The campaign to highlight the shocking abuse of migrant workers took a sinister turn earlier this month.
Two British nationals Krishna Upahyaya and Ghmire Gundev were in Qatar investigating the abuse of Nepalese migrant workers.
They were arrested on September 1 by the Qatari security services and held until September 10 when, thanks to international pressure, they were released.
British companies are already operating in Qatar. Balfour Beatty, Carillion and Laing O’Rourke all have contracts in the country and it is inevitable that further contracts will be awarded to British companies in the future.
There is nothing preventing British construction companies being involved in the exploitation of migrant workers on their sites.
Unless Qatar dramatically improves the way it treats migrant workers, deaths and exploitation are set to increase in the coming years when Qatar’s construction boom is further fuelled as preparations for the World Cup in 2022 begin in earnest.
While the World Cup presents fresh problems it also contains opportunities. Qatar is desperate to host the World Cup in order to boost its global image.
This is why maximum pressure needs to be applied to Fifa, to force Qatar to dramatically improve its treatment of migrant workers.
In order not to lose the right to host the World Cup Qatar needs to ensure:
The complete abolition of the kafala system
Migrant workers have the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining
Independent labour inspections
Occupational health and safety standards to meet international standards
An effective labour disputes system
Decent living conditions
Qatar should be given 12 months to clean up their act. If they are unable or unwilling to do so Fifa should strip them of the World Cup.
Qatar must understand that the World Cup cannot be played in stadiums soaked in workers’ blood.
Steve Murphy is General Secretary of construction union Ucatt.
Delegates and visitors at Labour Party Conference can find out more about the abuse of migrant workers in Qatar by visiting Ucatt’s stall number 45.
The Fifa executive committee member Theo Zwanziger has broken ranks to claim that, in his opinion, the 2022 World Cup finals will not be held in Qatar because of extreme temperatures in the Gulf state: here.
This video is called Qatar’s World Cup 2022 workers: ‘We may as well just die here’ | Guardian Investigations.
From daily The Morning Star in Britain:
MPs and trade unionists decry Qatar exploitation
Monday 22nd September 2014
Labour MPs joined union activists at the weekend to “show Qatar the red card” over its appalling abuse of migrant workers.
Shadow international development secretary Jim Murphy, shadow minister for sport Clive Efford and backbencher Stephen Hepburn joined members of construction union Ucatt to demand that Qatar stop exploiting migrant workers or be barred from hosting the 2022 World Cup.
The three MPs were snapped in Manchester following a pre-Labour Party conference football match between MPs and journalists at the Ethiad Arena.
“Pressure is growing on Qatar to end the exploitation and deaths of migrant workers,” said Ucatt general secretary Steve Murphy.
“Fifa must act and tell Qatar that unless this abuse is ended then it will be stripped of the right to hold the World Cup.”
From daily News Line in Britain:
Thursday, 11 September 2014
DELEGATES at the TUC Congress in Liverpool yesterday voted unanimously for Motion 75 Qatar to strip Qatar of the World Cup.
About this vote on Qatar:
GMB’s Justin Bowden said that a corrupt autocracy, which treats women as second-class citizens and funds terrorism, should be an international pariah — “but in Fifa they found a partner as rotten as them.”
This video from Britain says about itself:
12 June 2014
Stop TTIP. Stop the corporate power grab. Join the day of action on 12 July.
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership would grant corporations the power to sue government for making laws that ‘damage’ their profits, threatening to make the privatisation of our public services like the NHS and education irreversible.
THE EU’S proposed new trade commissioner Cecelia Malmstroem was forced to backtrack today after appearing to reject a key plank of the secretive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal: here.
The News Line article continues:
Delegates went on to vote unanimously for Composite 3: Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) which ‘Resolves that the trade union movement should now call for the TTIP negotiations to be halted and adopt a clear position of outright opposition to TTIP and the other trade agreements currently being negotiated.
‘I’m holding a ratchet. A rachet allows a motion in one direction while preventing a motion in the opposite direction.
‘After the Health and Social Care Act over 70 new contracts are in private hands. It is happening already, galloping privatisation.
‘Cameron is more than happy to open health to private companies. The Health and Social Care Act is the beginning of privatisation not the end.
‘Let’s ratchet up our campaign.’
‘The treaty is a very real threat to our public services not least post-school education, not just the NHS.
‘The inclusion of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement Clause in the treaty would allow companies to sue our national government if they don’t like its decisions. We need to send a clear message corporate interest must not trump public interests, so we need to say no to this deal.’
Delegates went on to vote unanimously for the TUC General Council Statement on Gaza, that calls on the UK government and the EU to end immediate arms trading with Israel, including all military industrial collaboration.
It also reiterates its call for the suspension of the EU-Israel Association Agreement until the rights of the Palestinians are established.
The statement was introduced by the TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, who revealed: ‘In July I pressed Cameron face to face to stop the arms race to Israel. We welcome the ceasefire and any relaxation of the blockade. It must end.
‘But Israel is continuing with a further seizure of land in the West Bank.
‘The General Council has a long standing commitment to go to Gaza to express our solidarity with the Palestinian trade unions.’
The motion adds: ‘Congress is concerned the crisis has also witnessed attacks on trade unionists and enabled the empowering of fascist groups, including the Odessa massacre which saw that city’s trade union centre burn to the ground.
The motion calls on ‘the General Council to hold an urgent meeting to consider how best to support those fighting for trade union rights and against fascism in Ukraine.’
It also calls for a permanent cease fire, a peaceful negotiated settlement and opposition to the use of British troops in the Ukrainian conflict.
Mover Peter Pinkney said: ‘Thousands have been displaced as a result of the conflict supported by the West, 200 US advisors are already there. Ukraine is now riven through interference by foreign countries.
‘We ask that British troops are not sent there.’
This video is called Migrant Workers Dying In Shocking Numbers In Qatar.
From daily The Morning Star in Britain:
Qatar: We’re holding rights investigators
Sunday 7th September 2014
QATAR finally admitted on Saturday that it had arrested British two human rights investigators over alleged illegal activity.
The Norway-based Global Network for Rights and Development (GNRD) reported that researcher Krishna Upadhyaya and photographer Ghimire Gundev had gone missing on August 31.
GNRD said the men feared they were being tailed by security services while investigating Qatari migrant labour conditions.
Qatar’s Foreign Ministry said the men were “being interrogated for having violated the provisions of the laws of the state,” but that all actions were “consistent with the principles of human rights.”
This video is called German filmmaker imprisoned for exposing dire Qatar [football] World Cup worker conditions.
By Luke James in Britain:
UCL: We can’t end Qatar campus ‘slavery’
Thursday 28th August 2014
Ms McGovern expressed her alarm at working conditions at the site in a letter to University College London (UCL) published yesterday.
The front-bench Labour MP and former UCL student requested urgent face-to-face talks with UCL international vice-provost Dame Nicola Brewer.
Her intervention comes exactly a week after the Morning Star revealed “modern-day slavery” conditions at Qatar’s Education City.
An International TUC investigation found migrant workers at the campus had been charged huge recruitment fees, stripped of their passports, underpaid and forced to sign contract extensions.
ITUC lawyers called out UCL bosses for their “passive approach” to the consequences of Qatar’s kafala system.
UCL human resources director Nigel Waugh insisted the workers were not its responsibility as they were employed by subcontractors.
Ms McGovern rejected the excuse in her letter and TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady yesterday accused Mr Waugh of trying to “wash his hands” of rights violations.
Mr McGovern wrote: “These are practices which I’m sure you will agree are unacceptable in any workplace and which an institution such as UCL should be doing all it can to stamp out in any location that it is functioning, even if the individuals concerned are not direct employees of the college.”
The Labour MP explains how she has been campaigning with trade unions to scrap the kafala system.
Construction companies have abused the system to exploit workers brought in to build stadiums for the 2022 World Cup.
Ms McGovern added that “all British firms and organisations operating in Qatar need to look carefully at the way the workers they rely on are treated, and universities like UCL can be no exception to that.”
Lecturers’ union UCU leader Sally Hunt welcomed Ms McGovern’s stand.
“Our universities must ensure that people working on foreign campuses have access to the same rights as they would be afforded in the UK,” she said.