Bahrain dictatorship’s British governmental support

This video is called ‘Night raids, torture, sham trials a daily reality in Bahrain’ – human rights activist.

By Jeremy Corbyn in Britain:

Cynicism trumps fears for human rights

Wednesday 7th January 2015

On Monday I tabled a motion to Parliament saying: “That this house is appalled at recent human rights abuses in Bahrain, most notably the multiple charges that have recently been brought against the Bahrainian opposition al-Wefaq leader Sheikh Ali Salman…”

It’s quite extraordinary the levels of non-comment by Britain and other UN security council members over this arrest. It comes on the back of decades of oppression of legitimate opposition in Bahrain, routine abuse of those in prison, and, tragically, many deaths, as Bahraini forces have sought to control opposition demonstrations.

The relationship between Britain and Bahrain seems to be overwhelmingly driven by arms sales, appeasement of Saudi Arabia and the desire to maintain a British military presence in the kingdom.

The government crackdown in Bahrain began in earnest in February 2011 and the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry detailed systematic torture, extrajudicial killing and acts of violence by security forces.

A Bahrain Human Rights Watch briefing document outlined the severity of the situation as follows:

“Since the beginning of the Bahrain crackdown, over 130 individuals have been killed.

“Over 50 were killed following the issuing of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry report, which was accepted by the government and king of Bahrain.

“Over 3,500 individuals have been arbitrarily detained as political prisoners and prisoners of conscience.

“Torture and enforced disappearance is on the rise and prominent opposition members continue to serve arbitrary prison sentences.

Children are also routinely detained and subjected to abuse and torture. The legacy of the BICI report was left on the sidelines, with no real implementation of its recommendations.”

I raised the matter in the House of Commons in the pre-Christmas adjournment debate and also drew attention to the bizarre speech made by Britain’s ambassador to Bahrain in the days after the new British base was announced, in which he claimed Britain had chosen to become involved there because of the concern for human rights and democracy that Bahrain was showing.

The reality is that this is an act of the deepest hypocrisy by the British government and showing more interest in the strategic wishes of the US and Gulf Co-operation Council in developing a base, even though at the same time the Foreign Office itself has expressed concern about human rights abuses, and the foreign affairs select committee has pressed for much more engagement on human rights matters.

Sadly, the Labour opposition spokespeople on foreign affairs and defence have supported the base, although expressing concerns about human rights in Bahrain.

The reality is that arms sales, military calculations and oil, alongside the massive market for arms in Saudi Arabia, have trumped any fears over human rights abuses.

Jeremy Corbyn is Labour MP for Islington North.

This video is called British base in Bahrain is “slap in the face for everyone fighting for human rights”.

By Andrew Smith in Britain:

Comment: Arms sales trump human rights as UK enters Bahrain

Tuesday, 6 January 2015 11:46 AM

The decision to open the first British base “east of the Suez” since 1971 follows a ‘landmark’ military agreement which the foreign secretary, Philip Hammond MP, signed with the Bahraini regime earlier this month. The new base will serve as a strategic UK outpost in the Middle East with the government’s contribution believed to be around £15 million.

Nicholas Houghton, the chief of the defence staff has described the move as ‘symbolic’ and a recognition of the ‘quality of the relationship’ between the two nations. It may bear fruit for political leaders, but it’s a relationship that people in Bahrain are opposed to, with large scale protests against the base and against UK ambassador Iain Lindsay.

This closeness has come despite the intensifying crackdown on human rights being undertaken by the Bahraini authorities. In recent days, the head of the banned Al-Wefaq opposition movement, Sheikh Ali Salman, has been arrested and detained, with police using teargas and birdshot to supress protesting crowds.

Last year 50 detainees held a 30-day hunger strike in opposition to government torture. A statement released by the prisoners accused the authorities of a number of serious abuses; including beatings, insults, torture, solitary confinement, and forcing them to stand for long hours.

Earlier this year the king reinforced his authority by introducing a new law that imposes prison sentences of up to seven years on anyone who publicly insults him. Only two weeks ago a prominent human rights activist, Zainab al-Khawaja, was sentenced to three years in prison for tearing up a photograph of him. The UK hasn’t just turned a blind eye to the oppression taking place; it has actively promoted the regime that is doing it.

This year saw UKTI DSO, the tax payer funded arms export body, listing Bahrain among its ‘priority market‘ for sales. This will have been music to the ears of BAE Systems, which has made no secret of its intention to sell Typhoons to the Kingdom. Last month Philip Hammond represented their interests by pushing for sales at the Dubai Airshow and taking part in promotional talks that he described as ‘very fruitful‘.

A number of industry analysts have linked the latest agreement to possible Typhoon sales and arms company interests. The International Institute of Strategic Studies said:

“The mood music created by the naval base agreement can only be of benefit to defence industrial relations between the two sides.” BAE has a history of selling weapons to Bahrain, but it is also making its presence felt in classrooms with its ‘educational programme‘, which is designed to promote its brand to Bahraini school children.

The focus on arms promotions has increased since the 2011 uprising, with the UK having licensed £25 million worth of military equipment to Bahrain since then. This has included licences for machine guns, sniper rifles, weapon sights, ammunition and anti-riot shields, all of which can be used for internal repression. These sales have sent out the message that the human rights and civil liberties of Bahraini people are a lesser priority than the profits of arms companies like BAE.

This point was emphasised by the foreign affairs committee’s 2013 report into relations with Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, which concluded:

“Both the government and the opposition in Bahrain view UK defence sales as a signal of British support for the government.”

The same report urged the government to include Bahrain as a ‘country of concern’ in its annual human rights and democracy report. Unsurprisingly the request fell on deaf ears. Last month the same committee concluded:

“We see little or no evidence that Bahrain has made enough progress in implementing political reform and safeguarding human rights.”

Arms sales to tyrannies like Bahrain are not, and can never be, apolitical acts. Not only do they bolster the buyers by giving them military support, they also signify the UK’s endorsement and in some cases buy its political silence. With the new naval base opening in the Gulf, and with the possibility of Typhoon sales on the horizon, this looks unlikely to change. As the situation escalates it is becoming increasingly clear that the drive for arms sales is having serious consequences for those facing state repression.

Every December Bahrainis use ‘Martyrs Day’ to commemorate past victims of torture. Only by ending the political and military support that is strengthening the regime can the UK do its part in ensuring that this year’s Martyrs Day brings a stronger outlook for human rights.

Andrew Smith is a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). You can follow CAAT at @CAATuk.

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