Human rights organisation Amnesty International (AI) has blasted Bahrain for a year-long campaign against free speech in the country. But the UK government has not only remained quiet about its ally’s actions; it’s also invited it to the upcoming international arms fair in London.
A year of crushing dissent
AI released a report on 7 September called ‘No One Can Protect You’: Bahrain’s Year of Crushing Dissent.
The report describes [pdf] how, from June 2016, Bahrain stepped up a crackdown on free speech. Authorities arrested, prosecuted, and put into prison over 160 people for criticising the government. They include human rights defenders, political activists, lawyers, journalists, and Shi’a clerics.
Philip Luther, AI’s Researcher and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, explains that:
Using an array of tools of repression, including harassment, arbitrary detention and torture, the government of Bahrain has managed to crush a formerly thriving civil society and reduced it to a few lone voices who still dare to speak out.
The majority of peaceful critics, whether they are human rights defenders or political activists, now feel the risks of expressing their views have become too high in Bahrain.
As well as the crackdown on free speech, the report notes [pdf] several other human rights abuses, such as torture; the revoking of citizenship, leaving some activists stateless; and banning peaceful gatherings, with the police’s heavy-handed response including beatings and teargas usage.
The government is also targeting Bahraini activists outside of Bahrain.
Sayed Alwadaei, for instance, is a Bahraini living in exile in Britain. After protesting the Bahraini king’s visit to the UK outside 10 Downing Street in October 2016, Bahraini officials arrested his wife. And he believes his protests were the reason for other members of his family being arrested in March 2017 as well.
But no one in the UK government has really spoken out against any of the abuses. In fact, Theresa May reportedly visited Bahrain a few weeks later to talk about trade and security.
And now, Bahrain will be attending Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI), an arms fair based in London, along with fellow Gulf state Saudi Arabia. There are already calls to ban states like Saudi Arabia (criticised for alleged human rights abuses in Yemen) from attending. But these calls have fallen on deaf ears.
AI believes that the UK has a high level of influence in Bahrain, but that it waters down public criticism. Luther says:
The failure of the UK, USA and other countries that have leverage over Bahrain to speak out in the face of the disastrous decline in human rights in the country over the past year has effectively emboldened the government to intensify its endeavour to silence the few remaining voices of dissent.
These actions may be that of a foreign government. And it’s ultimately that government’s responsibility to comply with human rights. But where the UK can say something, it must. Because at the moment, it’s just welcoming Bahrain and other human rights abusers with open arms to buy more weapons; and that response speaks volumes.
– Join the week of action against DSEI organised by Stop the Arms Fair.
– Support CAAT and find out more about the arms trade.
– Donate to the CrowdJustice appeal to support the legal costs of two activists who attempted to disarm a war plane bound for Saudi Arabia.
Featured image via Flickr
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