FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date: 10th March 2014
Hypocritical stance of western democracies discussed at Bahrain Conference in UK Houses of Parliament
Politicians, human rights activists and members of the public gathered today in London to discuss the ongoing political and human rights crisis in Bahrain. On the eve of the Saudi invasion of Bahrain three years ago, whose troops still occupy Bahrain, the conference, one of many, took on a regional flavour for the first time, exploring human rights violations and political agendas in surrounding GCC countries. The conference was hosted by Lord Avebury, Vice-Chairman of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group in the House of Lords.
Lord Avebury, Vice-Chairman of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group, opened the conference by examining the theme of the conference, ‘Bahrain at cross roads’ asking whether the people of Bahrain “proceed along the path of reform, where in the words of Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights “… they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural rights” or are they stuck in the rut of a dictatorship and a false process of dialogue and leading nowhere?”. Remarking on the response of the Bahrain Government controlled by the Al Khalifa monarchy to three years of pro-democracy protest, Lord Avebury said “not only have the al-Khalifas not moved a centimetre towards democracy, but they have tortured and locked up all those who speak up for democracy and human rights”. He made a number of probing questions of the activities of the UN committees and Special Rapporteurs who meet this week in Geneva for the 25th session of the UN Human Rights Council: “why has there been no word by the Working group on Arbitrary Detention, with 3,412 people in detention last Friday? Why has the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers not looked at the proceedings of the kangaroo courts which sentenced the Bahrain 13 to long periods of imprisonment based on testimonies extracted by means of torture? Why has the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion not commented on the total exclusion of the Shia from the professions, education, broadcasting, health and government, and the expulsion of thousands of Shia migrant workers?” Lord Avebury concluded his speech by pointing out that “the short term interests of the west, and of the UK in particular, rely heavily on the maintenance of stability in the region, so we should be working hard to counter the sectarianism of these autocracies, and to promote democratic inclusivity, and all systems of religion or belief are protected.”
Dr Mahmood Al Fardan: Board member of Bahrain Salaam for Human Rights, spoke about the attacks that medical professionals have suffered since the outbreak of revolution in Bahrain on 14th February 2014. “Until now medical personnel are still being attacked and encouraged to leave the country” he said. In addition to the experience of medics themselves many of whom have been imprisoned and tortured because they treated protesters, Al Fardan also explained the effect of the security forces’ interference in hospital conduct in current provision of treatment to injured protesters: “many protesters are not attending hospital because of fear of arrest and interrogation – this is leading to a number of disabilities – ordinary people cannot differentiate between simple, complex, or severe trauma so cannot recommend who needs or doesn’t need to attend the hospital”.
Rori Donaghy, Campaign Manager at Emirates Centre for Human Rights, compared the crackdown in Bahrain to the repression of political dissidents in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Donaghy highlighted many parallel human rights violations in the UAE including imprisonment of hundreds of political prisoners, enforced disappearances, systematic mistreatment and torture in prisons, and prosecution of cyber dissidents. The parallels drawn by Donaghy extended to the western tolerance of human rights abuses in UAE where continued investment and hefty arms sales continue as they do in Bahrain, including the failed Euro Typhoon deal as well as the inclusion of the UAE in the EU’s Schengen visa-free travel rights; “things which invalidate the regime”. Donaghy warned that “the EU should be aware of granting the UAE passport greater freedom of travel when the UAE doesn’t allow its own people this”.
Raza Kazim, Spokesperson of Islamic Human Rights Commission, contrasted the reaction of western governments to the threat of invasion by foreign forces in Ukraine by Russia and in Bahrain by Saudi Arabia. Kazim asked “why no fuss over Bahrain?” answering his own question by concluding that there is “deep seated hypocrisy at work in terms of western governments; they feel it is ok to allow these injustices to occur [because] the rulers in these regions are doing their bidding.” Kazim also examined the nature of and roots of the sectarianism in Bahrain, Saudi and elsewhere in the world. Kazim claimed that there is a need to “question” the sectarian, anti-Shiite agenda, and whether “Saudi Arabia is promoting the Wahhabi and Salafi agenda” as there are currently 30,000 political prisoners in Saudi – most are from Sunni Salafi background” claiming the wider “issue of justice and issue of sectarianism which is being promoted by Saudis – of the Shi’a crescent” or in Bahrain, “that it is the Sunni rulers in Bahrain against the Shi’a people” is “being used to hide the issues of injustice and the issues of oppression taking place”. “Not only have this Saudis used this tool of sectarianism in Saudi, it is a tool which is being propagated around the Muslim world and in the media for example by the BBC. This tool of sectarianism – it is being used because it is being seen to be effective in the wider narrative. The British and U.S. governments are supporting this – it has been going on for quite some time.”
Ali Abdel Imam, former prisoner and victim of torture, gave a personal account of his experience in prison and of being tortured by the National Security Agency. Imam was imprisoned for 6 months in 2011 and has spent the past 2 years in hiding from re-detention. During his time in prison he spent a total of 4 months in solitary confinement and was beaten severely. Before being taken to the Public Prosecution Office, Imam claimed that he had a gun put to his head by one of the National Security Agency officers and was told that if he denied the charges or spoke of being tortured, he would be tortured again. Like the majority of detainees in Bahrain, he claimed that he was subjected to torture and forced to sign a confession that he wasn’t able to read, and that “if they [the security services] stop the torture – they will not be able to get any information or evidence”.
Dr Saeed Shehabi, President of Bahrain Freedom Movement, wrapped-up the formal speeches by concluding that the “GCC countries need to be overhauled”. He pointed to the recent withdrawal of the Qataris’ ambassadors from the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain as a sign of the crisis and division within the Gulf region. He noted that compared to the other regional revolutions “Bahrain has conducted the longest surviving revolution in the Arab world” and unlike the “others that have been contained, co-opted … distracted”, the Bahrainis have remained firm in their demands. Shehabi predicted that it is “unlikely that GCC will last for long; we already see divisions between Saudi, UAE and Bahrain on one side and Qatar, Oman, and Kuwait on the other”.
Jalal Fairooz, former Bahraini MP, living in asylum in the UK following the revocation of his citizenship over a year ago, updated the delegation on the opening session of the UN Human Rights Council in the morning, in which the first three speakers, the Special Rapporteur for Torture, the Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders and the Head of the Polish delegation all made reference to Bahrain in their speeches condemning the endemic use of torture against political dissidents and the unacceptability of prosecuting protesters based on confessions extracted through torture.