Press conference held under the auspices of The Parliamentary Human Rights Group
Four years ago the people of Bahrain flocked to the streets in their thousands seeking fundamental political change after decades of dictatorial rule by the Alkhalifa clan. They were repressed by the regime which adopted reprehensible tactics including systematic torture, extra-judicial killing, revocation of citizenship and collective punishment. The UK Government has chosen to defend the regime turning a blind eye to its bleak record of human rights. It is time for UK to change direction on Bahrain starting with designating it a “country of concern” in line with recommendations by the Parliamentary Foreign Relations Committee.
Tuesday 10th February 2015
Chairman: Lord Avebury, Vice-Chairman of the Parliamentary HR Group: The price we pay for being given facilities for our aircraft carriers in Bahrain became clear when the Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said in response to a question by Jeremy Corbyn in the Commons a few weeks ago that Bahrain is “….travelling in the right direction. It is making significant reform. The crown prince who is charged with this agenda is directly engaged and has made significant progress over the last few months”.( House of Commons Official Report 20 Jan 2015 : Column 66)
This extraordinary statement was made on the same day that the world famous human rights activist Nabeel Rajab was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment for saying in a tweet that security institutions in Bahrain served as an ‘ideological incubator’ for jihadists’. Mr Rajab told the BBC that the laws and the judiciary were being used as tools of repression.
The day before the Foreign Secretary’s statement, the head of the country’s legal opposition al-Wefaq, Sheikh Ali Salman, was charged with promoting violent regime change, though as everybody including the Foreign Office knows, Sheikh Ali and his party have been undeviating in their advocacy of peaceful change in the face of nation wide repression .
The UK, unlike other countries and the whole of the international human rights community, have never called for the release of political prisoners. We appeal for ‘due process’ in trials, when judges are appointed by the king and many of them are members of the al-Khalifa family, as was the case in the recent trial of Maryam al-Khawaja, co-Director of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights sentenced to a year’s imprisonment in absentia in December. We didn’t call for the release of Nabeel Rajab, or of the ‘Bahrain 13’, whose trials by a military court were condemned by the Bassiouni Commission; and we said not a word when the defendants were retried and convicted by a civil court using the same evidence, including confessions extracted by torture.
A week after the Foreign Secretary told the Commons about ‘significant reform’, the Bahraini Interior Ministry announced that under a law passed in July, 72 people were stripped of their citizenship by decree, with no nonsense about due process. Ten of them were alleged supporters of the Daesh, but al-Wefaq said most were opposition activists who supported ‘a democratic transition in Bahrain’. They included blogger Ali Abdulemam, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison in absentia for running an online news forum; Dr. Ali Al-Dairi, founder of the online news site Bahrain Mirror; journalist Abbas Busafwan; university professor Masoud Jahromi; and former opposition MP Shaikh Hasan Sultan.
The cases of Mr Sultan and of Jalal and Jawad Fairooz, also former opposition MPs, are being referred to the Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. This Committee will at least demand a full explanation of the reasons for these breaches of Parliamentary immunity which it will publish. The cases of other former MPs which I am not sure have yet been reported to the IPU are those of Khalil Al-Marzooq, former chairman of al Wefaq in Parliament; Osama Al-Tamimi,whose Parliamentary membership was arbitrarily revoked and access to his pension rights cancelled, and Matar Matar , who was arrested and tortured in 2011.
Foreign Office Ministers have repeatedly said that ‘inclusive and constructive political dialogue is the only way to promote peace and stability in Bahrain, a quote from their ‘Country case study’ on Bahrain published last April. We have just as consistently said the the so-called dialogue was bound to fail, because it didn’t include the street opposition, who call for replacement of the absolute monarchy by free elections leading to a people’s government. There can be no true political reform when advocacy of democracy and human rights is a crime.
So what can Mr Hammond say now? His policy of reform through dialogue in which a whole range of subjects is criminally out of order lies in ruins. There is nobody left for the al-Khalifas to dialogue with, and the £1.5 million the Foreign Office has spent on cosmetic reform is money down the drain. There is no sign that the regime’s widespread use of arbitrary detention and torture of opposition activists has been mitigated, and the visit by the UN Rapporteur on Torture is on indefinite hold. Human Rights Watch reports that:
“Analysis of court verdicts in the trials of the more than 200 people on terrorism or national security charges revealed the key role of Bahrain’s courts in maintaining the country’s highly repressive political order. Courts routinely sentence peaceful protesters to long prison terms, but members of the security forces are rarely prosecuted for unlawful killings, including in detention”.
The FCO has just released its much delayed response to the critical report by the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, rejecting the Committee’s recommendation that Bahrain should be listed as a ‘Country of Concern’ because it is on a path to reform. They say it is ‘making progress’ and is ‘on a trajectory of generally positive change’. The Government ‘are confident that real efforts are being made to address [human rights] issues’, and they ‘are providing a comprehensive package of technical and diplomatic assistance to support Bahrain’s reform programme’.
All there is to show for this package is the creation of a non-independent ombudsman and national rights institute, and human rights on the ground continue to deteriorate. As for political reform, the total grip of the al-Khalifas on power remains unrestricted; all platforms for free thinking and expression have been destroyed, and al-Wefaq, the only institution that had a mere right to exist as a nominal opposition has been decapitated and emasculated.
The people of Bahrain oppose the UK naval base and see it as a public declaration of the UK’s “green light” for Bahrain to continue its tyranny and repression with impunity. Sooner or later there has to be regime change.
All other international and independent rights reports, including the 2015 Human Rights Watch Annual Report claim that Bahrain is not reforming and is repressing its people. It is disappointing that the UK has so little regard for the unanimous opinion of the international human rights community. See the opinion of HRW on the UK’s attitude: FCO Ministers do not meet the opposition in London. The senior Al-Wefaq officials who visited London recently only obtained a meeting with the desk officer with some difficulty. Senior FCO officials do not meet Bahraini rights organisations in the UK.
The UK Ambassador in Manama recently insinuated that al-Wefaq supports Daesh and extremism. It is not conducive to dialogue for our Ambassador to criticise the opposition, as he has done
In the case of Nabeel Rajab, who was targeted for his advocacy of freedom of expression, the UN, US, Norway and over 100 human rights organisations called for his release, but the UK refused to do so. We haven’t even called for the release of Abdulhadi Al Khawaja whose detention was declared arbitrary by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. I beg you to demand his release as uniquely taken up by the UN WGAD.
Jeremy Corbyn, MP: Friends, thank you very much for coming to one of our many press conferences on the quest for human rights in Bahrain. We have held many over the years and I am wondering whether one day I will be able to come to a press conference and say I have some very good news about what is happening in Bahrain. Sadly not.
As Eric pointed out, I raised the question of the British base in Bahrain during questions to the Foreign Secretary and I got this very strange answer that the British base would go ahead because it was seen as a way of improving Britain’s security in the region and that Bahrain was on the correct path to improving human rights and democracy.
A few days later I have to table an EDM complaining that the opposition has been imprisoned. We have raised the question of the denial of the citizenship of 72 people. We have consistently raised the question of arms sales to Bahrain where that anti personnel equipment has been used to suppress demonstrators and the human rights situation has got no better at all. Indeed it has got considerably worse.
The Foreign Affairs Select Committee has expressed its deep concerns about the situation in Bahrain. The Joint Committee an Arms Exports has also expressed concern about the use of the equipment by the Bahraini forces against entirely justified democratic protests. The Human Rights Council has had the matter raised with it on many occasions.
So you have to ask yourselves the question why is Britain going ahead with the base, and going on with these ludicrous statements of approval for the human rights record of the Government of Bahrain when it knows absolutely the opposite to be the truth and to be the case.
Next month the Human Rights Council of the United Nations will be meeting for its spring session in Geneva. I am sure the issue is going to be raised and there will be side events alongside the Human Rights Council which will be drawing attention to the issues there.
The purpose of our press conference today is just to alert the rest of the world that there are many people in this country who do not glorify our arms sales to oppress those who demonstrate and express their democratic rights and who do not want British bases constructed where there are clear violations of human rights and then the government looks the other way and says everything is improving when it is not.
The Parliamentary Human Rights Group whose members had a meeting with the Foreign Office last week will put pressure on the FCO, I will continue to raise the matter in the House of Commons and Lord Avebury will obviously continue to raise the matter in the House of Lords. We will raise it in the Human Rights Council and in the next parliament after the general election those of us who are in that next parliament (and I hope to one of them) will not give up on this and will continue making this demand in government after May: the British government must review its relationship with Bahrain, review the question of the link between arms sales, British bases and human rights and instead of trying to please and appease the government of Bahrain stand with the people of Bahrain demanding democracy, justice, freedom, human rights and the right of free expression. That is a demand we won for the people in this country and we want it for people around the world.
Ali Abdulemam, a blogger sentenced to 15 years in prison by the military court in absentia, founder of Bahrain online: I am a human rights defender and founder of Bahrain online which is a very powerful website as Lord Avebury said. It is a platform which created and followed up the uprising of 2011 when I was in prison.
I will begin with my recent story relating to the stripping of my nationality. I was talking with my friend. He was in Lebanon and I was here in London. A pop message came on my website saying Bahrain had revoked the nationality of 72 people. And I was telling him: “Wait I think my citizenship has been revoked.” And he was laughing loudly at me. I scrolled down and reached number 49. That was my name. I said:” Wait. I think your name is also there.” He stopped laughing and I scrolled down to number 70 where his name was. I don’t know if this is a tragic story but it is how I received the news that my citizenship had been revoked.
I have to mention that this is against the universal declaration of human rights that the Bahraini government has already signed and recognised. I don’t understand what will happen when people are left stateless without any nationality or any country to recognise them. The United Nations ran a campaign last November as they wanted to eliminate statelessness in the world.
Bahrain is using this to punish the opposition, especially those who are outside the country and the government cannot put its hand on them, imprison them or torture them. They use severe weapons against those who are outside. Sometimes they threaten their families and sometimes they just strip their nationality and they lose a country that will recognise them as citizens.
I hope the decision to revoke nationalities will not be recognised by the Western world, the UK government or any other country. I know that the Arab world will not do anything in regard to this. I hope that the Western world, which is always telling us it stands for human rights and democracy, will not recognise this decision and continue to recognise us as Bahrainis. I still recognise myself as a Bahraini, my family was in Bahrain for 800 years. Whenever I fill out a form I will state that I am a Bahraini. I will not write ‘stateless’ on any form. I will not change whatever I believe in for the sake of any official paper.
The king committed a crime when he issued this decree to strip my nationality. I was not taken to court, nobody questioned me, nobody even asked about me or sent me any request to inform me that they would investigate my behaviour which would result in my citizenship being revoked.
Chairman: This shows you what due process means in Foreign Office terms. It means, among other things, the revocation of people’s citizenship by decree without any opportunity of contesting the decision in a court of law.
FILM from Bahrain Al-Youm News Agency.
Reporter: On February 14, 2011 protesters demanded changed and an end to the Al Khalifa’s monopoly on all power and the country’s wealth. Since the start of the revolution, and until now, the authorities have chosen violence to quash peaceful protesters. Weapons have frequently been used against the protesters. The shot gun has been their weapon of choice and it was with that gun that the young Ali Mushaima, the first martyr of the revolution was killed.
From that point onwards the number of martyrs has continued to grow to well over 100. Some of the martyrs were killed by live ammunition and some like Issa El Hadi and Ali Abdul Aziz were beaten to death. Others died in detention as a result of torture. Ali Wadad was run over by a police vehicle. Suffocating gasses that the authorities fire into houses claimed the lives of many Bahrainis. Others have been kidnapped and murdered like the martyrs Yousif Al Mawai.
As the authorities violently cracked down on protesters they were supported by Saudi troops who occupied Bahrain in March 2011. Following this the Pearl Roundabout, which was seen as a symbol of the revolution, was demolished. The authorities did not stop there. Thirty mosques and places of worship were also destroyed.
Prominent figures and leaders of the revolution were also detained and later sentenced to lengthy terms in prison. After the crackdown the Bahraini Commission of Inquiry was set up to investigate allegations of human rights violations. The body issues recommendations to the authorities, including holding torturers to account and issuing compensation to victims. But many of these recommendations were left on the shelf. This prompted the Human Rights Council to issues another 176 recommendations against Bahrain in May 2012.
Although the authorities have accepted most of the recommendations they failed to implement them. Instead they tightened security measures and further restricted freedom of expression. Then they banned demonstrations in the capital Manama and sentenced Nabil Rajab, director of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, to two years in prison.
In November of the same year the Bahraini authorities revoked the citizenship of 31 members of the opposition. They also issued laws restricting freedom of expression as well as sentencing anyone criticising the king to seven years in prison. The establishment as also granted further powers to use terrorism laws to punish political opponents. Many have been arrested as result of this law including engineers, doctors, tutors, women, the elderly, children and infants. The authorities turned a blind eye to real terrorist organisations like Al Qaeda and ISIS.
Bahrain is no longer a safe environment for human rights defenders to continue their work. Shortly after returning from Europe and exposing the human rights situation in Bahrain Nabil Rageeb was sentenced. So was Zeinab Al Khawaja and Mariam Al Khawaja.
Leaders of the opposition who operate within the formal framework have founded themselves being arrested and detained. Sheikh Ali Salman is a example of this. The regime has failed to enter into a serious dialogue with the opposition and resolve the current political crisis going as far as expelling the US Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Malinoski.
Philip Hammond, British Foreign Secretary: It is a country which is travelling in the right direction.
Reporter: Despite four years of continuous human rights violations, Britain’s Foreign Secretary claims Bahrain is travelling in the right direction – a statement seen as a mystery by many.
Saeed Shehabi London representative of the Bahrain Freedom Movement. [Statement in Arabic]
But when they looked into this further they realised it was connected to Britain’s recent plans to establish a permanent military base in Bahrain the construction costs of which will be borne by the Al Khalifas.
Nabeel Rajab: Director Bahrain Center for Human Rights: It was an insult to see the British Foreign Minister saying Bahrain is moving in the right direction. Despite all the suffering of the people of Bahrain, all the killing, all the torture which is documented by the Commission which the king of Bahrain has created himself, Bahrain has bought their silence by building a military base.
Reporter: The human rights situation in Bahrain has deteriorated rapidly the international community has remained silent.
Nabeel Rajab: Unfortunately we have seen very negative British foreign policy towards our revolution in the past year. Their negative support of the Bahrain government allows it to assume it has a green light. It is not travelling in the right direction. It is travelling in the wrong direction.
Reporter: The people of Bahrain have no choice but to bring down the regime.
Chaiman: I think we can see from the large number of people who gather on the streets to protest against the regime that there is a voiceless mass of people who are calling for regime change and that means we must get rid of the Al Khalifas and replace them with a fully democratic regime where the government is elected by the people and the ministers are appointed by parliament and not the royal family. Bahrain has the longest serving prime minister in the world. He has been in the same post for over 40 years and there are lot of other members of the royal family in these powerful positions and also appointed as judges. The judge who appointed Mariam Al Khawaja is a member of the royal family and so are many of the others. The ones who are not members of the royal family are stooges appointed by the royal family to do the royal family’s bidding so there is no due process.
Jodie Ginsberg, Chief Executive, Index on Censorship: In 2012 Index on Censorship awarded our freedom of expression award for campaigning to the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and Nabeel Rajab. We were delighted last year when he was released from prison and we were able to welcome him in the UK. It was also a slightly sad time because we spent the time discussing how we could ensure that Mariam Al Khawaja was released from prison. We campaigned with BIRD (Bahrain Institute for Human Rights) and others and we were delighted when that happened only to find that when Nabil went back to Bahrain he himself was arrested and has since been charged for sending a tweet. His appearance is tomorrow and I hope that you will join us in expressing your vocal support for Nabil and for his six months prison sentence commutable on payment of a fine, to be dropped which we see as an attempt by the government to stifle free expression in Bahrain.
For Index on Censorship is it deplorable frankly that at a time when the global community is focused on free expression, as they have not been for many years, countries like Bahrain are experiencing a further erosion in free expression and democratically elected governments are doing little to speak out against this erosion. That is particularly true of Bahrain.
Perhaps what Philip Hammond meant when he said that Bahrain was travelling in the right direction was referring to Bahrain’s foreign minister who walked with other world leaders on the Paris Je suis Charlie march in January. Perhaps that was what he was referring to. We certainly can’t see that Bahrain is travelling anywhere in the right direction on free expression and if anything it is going backwards.
This is a country that imprisons per capita the second highest number of journalists in the world. This is a country that has just revoked, utterly against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the citizenship of 72 Bahrainis a number of whom were journalists and bloggers. That to me does not sound like a country travelling in the right direction.
This is a country to which Human Rights Watch devoted seven pages of its latest annual report. Human Rights Watch covers 90 countries and Bahrain got seven pages of its report. Again that does not sound like a country travelling in the right direction.
We are deeply concerned by what we see as the erosion of free expression in Bahrain and the use of courts and police to stifle free expression in Bahrain and we join those here who call for greater democracy in Bahrain – especially for the protection of human rights and the right of free expression.
Chairman: Thank you Index for everything you do. We will certainly join you in your appeal to get Nabil Rajab released when he comes before the stooge court tomorrow although I do not feel very optimistic about it. Jeremy has just told me that he will be putting down an early day motion in the commons protesting about the revocation of citizenship and other matters. We will keep an eye on the situation and we will be watching very closely what happens during the hearing against our friend our colleague Nabil Rajab when he appears before the court tomorrow.
Showing the use of tear gas against protesters.
(Saeed Shehabi: This happened on Saturday. It is near the house of Sheikh Salman and you can see the amount of gas that is being fired. You see how many canisters there are on the ground.)
Chairman: You see how brutally the authorities suppress people who are demonstrating. They use tear gas canisters as instruments of killing because many people who have been shot at close range by tear gas canisters have perished as a result of these attacks.
Sayed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy: My colleagues have discovered what it means when the British government says that Bahrain is moving in the right direction. The suffering of the people in Bahrain is not recognised by this state – a country which often promotes human rights. But when it comes to its interests and a wealthy country such as Bahrain we see one of the clearest examples of hypocrisy.
I want to take you back to 11th February 2011 where the people were inspired by seeing changes in the whole region. We saw how the Tunisians started their revolution and how the Egyptians succeeded in overthrowing Hosni Mubarak. At that moment everyone in Bahrain believed that the moment of change was possible and achievable.
The world was supporting the revolution in Tunisia. Mr Obama and David Cameron were saying that Hosni Mubarak has to step down. Now is the time for the Egyptian people to take power. Why when it comes to Bahrain are the champions of democracy siding totally with the dictators?
The revolution in Bahrain has faced so many challenges. Not only is it the revolution where the Saudis entered the country and started their crackdown which was a total attack on the people. The king of Bahrain established a Commission of Inquiry which stated that 34 places of worship – mainly Shia mosques – were demolished. Within that commission there was a policy of systematic torture in that country
I myself was in prison at that time and I witnessed various tactics to break our will and to crush this hope of freedom and change. They tried to crush our dreams. That was so harsh especially five years later when I see the country going through its worse time. It is not only because Nabeel Rajab was sentenced to six months in prison – the only opposition leader remaining outside of prison was sent to prison.
Yusef Badah was making the 3rd anniversary of the death of his son and found himself being attacked by a tear gas canister and lost his eye. I have not seen a single statement from the FCO or any recognition that these people have been suffering and they deserve some kind of democracy which Britain has been promoting. The challenges of Britain are very deep. The country is facing a total attack on its indigenous population. They are in prison. And who is repressing them? Mercenaries brought in from other countries. They are working in the security sector and engaging in torture and in all kinds of violations. Many of the victims had to leave Bahrain and became stateless.
Where are the comments from the FCO on a clear violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet the FCO did not comment on that. Three days from now we are going to be marking the 4th anniversary of this revolution which faces so many challenges, not only from its neighbours but also from silence.
One day Britain was silent about the atrocities which were happening in the country but now they are playing a misleading role trying to say there are serious reforms in a country where if you go to the prison it means that the Minister of Interior has sent you there. You will be tortured by someone from the ruling family. You will be sentenced within the justice system which is led by a member of the ruling family – most judges are from the ruling family. You get your citizenship revoked from the very same ruling family.
Then what is this country? It is a country that seriously deserves a change and a continuation of the UK policy is not acceptable and one day changes will come because the people on the ground are showing extreme examples of determination and are insisting that this change will come and we will see it very soon.
Jawad Fairooz, former Bahraini MP whose nationality has been revoked: Thank you everyone for being with us today. It is definitely very hard for us to see this aggression going on and on without serious action from the international community. The day they stripped the first group of their nationality (Me and my brother Jalal were among them) we said so clearly that if the international community will not intervene and take very strong action against Bahrain the regime will continue to act in the same manner and this is what is happening now.
Now the total of Bahraini citizens who have been stripped of their nationality is around 115. Those who remain in Bahrain have been summoned and questioned by the Immigration Directorate and have been told that they have to legalise their stay in Bahrain by finding Bahraini sponsorship. Their reply was ‘how can we find a sponsor when you have already taken all our documents, passports, id etc. The second step taken by the government was to take them to court and the court decided the state had every right to strip anyone’s nationality without any evidence or justification and we cannot force them to bring any justification for this.
The decision of the court was that they have to deported. They are waiting for their appeal in April. We think the appeal court will uphold the decision of the first court and they are going to be deported. They took Ayatollah Sheikh Najati to the airport and took his passport and gave him a one way ticket. Now he is living in Lebanon. The second example from this list is Fatema Horshi. He was on vacation when they stripped 72 nationals of their citizenship and he insisted on returning to his home country with his family. He was detained in the airport for more than 14 hours and later on he was forced to be separated from his family. They left his family in Bahrain and they forced him onto another aeroplane and they sent him to Qatar. He does not know what to do.
I can give you so many examples from the list of people who were stripped of their nationality who have never been involved in any political activities at all. Some of them were never detained in their lives. They had never been to a police station. Dr Massoud Jarmi is a clear example of this. He graduated with a PdH from Kent University in 2001. He was very successful in his career, he was teaching in a university in Bahrain and his only crime was to take part in the uprising in Lulu roundabout. He was detained, tortured and interrogated by the national security authorities and in the end they did not find any evidence against him. He was freed by the court. There were no charges. He thought that story was over and then all of a sudden he found his name on the list of 72. I spoke with him today. His morale is very high. But he is asking the same question which I asked: What crime have I committed? We are still challenging the regime. If you have any evidence that we committed a crime it should be shown. Our crime is seeking democracy. It is an obligation of the international community to take a decision to stop this brutal regime where the king or the government can strip the nationality of the people.
Chairman: I would like to mention that Ann Clwyd has raised the case of some of the MPs who had their citizenship taken away with the International Parliamentary Union’s Committee on the Rights of Parliamentarians. We should make sure that all the MPs who have had their citizenship taken away are on that list. So if there are any that you know of who are not could you please let me or Ann Clwyd know so the names can be added to the submission which she is making.
Jawad Fairroz: Now we have three. Two from the previous list and now there is another one: Sheikh Hassan Sultan. Many MPs have been targeted. We have the list which is now amounting to ten of them. The last one was Ousamma Tamimi.
Chairman: We need to make sure that all those people are on the list for the submission to International Parliamentary Union’s Committee on the Rights of Parliamentarians.Could you please let us know.
Saeed Shehabi: London representative Bahrain Freedom Movement: I was going to ask how many people here had their nationality revoked? Can you raise your hands – ten are here and there are 18 Bahrainis in London nationality has been revoked. Me and Jalal, Jawad, Abbas. Most of us had our nationality revoked in the first batch in November 2012. Of course this is a very cheap way of revenge.
As we are marking the fourth anniversary it is time for us to contemplate whether to go back and just submit and give up and say okay you are a dynastical rule. Just remain and stay as you are. It is a God given, hereditary right that you should keep ruling people and we by virtue of our birth must remain your slaves forever.
We are not challenging a legitimate government that has been voted into power by the people. We are challenging regimes that have imposed their will by the rule of the sword. The sword that you see being used by ISIS to behead the people is the same sword that has come from mainland Arabia and is being circulated around the Gulf and elsewhere in Syria and Iraq. It is not only chopping the heads of Arabs and Muslims, Bahrainis or Saudis. It is also chopping the heads of western people: journalists and women.
What we are seeing is an evil. Now for Phillip Hammond to stand by this evil is a transgression. It is nothing less than giving up the call for democracy and demonising those who are standing for human rights. The people of Bahrain have learned their lesson. If you ask me as a person in my life time – I am sixty now – how many years did I enjoy my Bahraini passport. In my adult life since I was 18 until now I enjoyed my Bahraini passport for three months only. My passport was taken away in the 70s. It was given back to me in 2001 in March. I went back to Bahrain. I used it to come back here and then to go back to Bahrain in June. That is the only time I used it in my life.
I am a Bahraini from 1300 years, from the beginning of history. It is not a secret that this regime came from outside. They are not natives they came from outside 200 years ago. I was reading in the newspaper that at this time in 1873 New York was vacated by the British. I linked it to the attack by the ruling family on Bahrain in that particular year. These people have nothing in common either with the Shia natives or the Sunni natives. Until today Al Khalifa cannot marry a non Al Khalifa whether they are Shia or Sunni. So if you are a Sunni Bahraini native and you get married to an Al Khalifa the Al Khalifa knows his or her rights. They don’t become sheikhs. I am not called sheikh. Sheikh is their preferential name.
So we are not talking about an indigenous group which is ruling by the consent of the people. We talking about a clan, a tribe which has ruled Arabia by the use of force and the sword. What does the world want. Does it want ISIS to continue? Does it want this terrorism, this extremism, this fanaticism to rule the world? Or does it want democracy? I think the Foreign Office needs a lot or pressure to change its direction.
Jeremy Corbyn was right to say that he would pursue his campaign. Lord Avebury has been saying this for the past 25 years. Eventually a change needs to be made not only in Bahrain but also in the UK mentality because that will be for the good of the world and for the peace of the international community.
The revolution will continue, there is no way of stopping it, there is no way of compromising on basic rights. There is no way that Bahrainis will accept that they will remain the victims of the genocidal policies of the Al Khalifa family. That history has gone. A new history has begun. We may have to pay a heafty price for it but let it be if that is our destiny we accept it.
Chairman: We have an opportunity coming up in a few weeks time of changing the stance of the government by changing the government itself. We should mobilise, maybe BIRD can do something about this that the Bahraini community and their friends should write to every candidate in the general election and ask whether they would stand up for democracy and human rights in Bahrain. That would not be difficult to organise. The lists of candidates are provided by the political parties and we could get some prominent signaturies to ask them if they are elected whether they will stand for a change of policy in the Foreign Office on Bahrain to promote human rights and democracy and to bring about a change in the regime which is legitimate and is being demanded by hundreds and thousands of people on the streets. You saw that democracy which can’t find a way of expressing itself. Let us help them at this general election by backing the campaign that they are waging.
Question: It seems Britain is totally against human rights yet the people who have been stripped of their nationality are able to come and live in Britain.
Saeed Shehabi: Only a few of us. We are 18. What about another 100 who are not in the UK.
Chairman: You make a good point because other countries like Qatar are being forced to accept somebody who has been deported from Bahrain. Why should these countries do that? What right has Bahrain to impose these people on another state. This is a violation of the human rights of the countries that are being forced to accept the exiles.
Saeed Shehabi: Many Bahrainis leave Bahrain to go to Dubai or Kuwait or Abu Dhabi or Muscat. They are stopped there and they are told they are not allowed to enter because their government wants them. But they just came from Bahrain. The regime is leaving the other countries to do their dirty work. In 2001 this dictator brought several people including Sheikh Al Salman and he told them that the CIA has circulated the names of 99 people for arrest if they go outside. He said he would protect them. The next day the American embassy issued a statement saying we have not issued any list of Bahrainis for detention or for arrest.
So the regime is blaming the others and giving the impression that the others are doing the dirty work while the dictator is the protector.
Comment: I am a Bahraini who has been in the UK for eleven years. There is no feeling of security in the country. A house could be raided any time. People could be sent to prison for long periods without any court hearing, without a warrant. What Saeed has just given us is an example of a form of terrorising people to make them scared. This feeling of no safety in the country is making people leave.
Chairman: In conclusion I think we have a very important function. In this room there are people who stood up against dictatorship and they have been the friends of democracy and human rights in parliament. We have an enormously important function. We are the sole voice that these people have to defend their human rights and their democracy. You saw what happens when people protest in Bahrain. You saw what happens in the House of Commons with Mr Philip Hammond saying that progress is being made. They are going in the right direction.
So the voices that we hear in this room are the real voices of the people of Bahrain and we have a very important duty to keep their voices heard and to disseminate them to the media whenever we can. I conclude by thanking you all very much for coming to this meeting and for the contributions that you have made and I thank our journalist friends for giving a voice to the unheard people of Bahrain.