Bahraini human rights activists have welcomed a UK government minister’s promise to hold a meeting with them to discuss the situation in their country.
The pledge was made by Middle East Minister of State Lord Ahmad during a debate on the Gulf States’ human rights record in the UK House of Lords on November 24.
Bahrain and the other five members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) came under heavy criticism during the debate for their human rights record.
It took place against the backdrop of the ongoing football World Cup in Qatar, which has seen widespread and negative media coverage of the treatment of migrant workers and the LGBT community in particular in that country.
The debate was heard from the gallery by Ali Mushaima, whose father Hasan Mushaima is in prison in Bahrain. Opposition activists Ebtisam Al-Saegh and Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei were also present. Lord Ahmad said he would arrange a meeting with them “as soon as possible”.
Ali Mushaima said after the debate that he was pleased that his father’s case was raised in the debate. “Today, while Lord Ahmad tried to defend British support for my father’s perpetrators, other members of my family have been arrested by the Bahrain regime for fraud [the] Demanding that my father’s fundamental right to medical treatment be fulfilled.”
Alwadaei, the director of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, said in response to the debate: “It was important that torture survivors from the Bahraini regime were present today to hear the minister’s response first hand. We look forward to meeting Lord Ahmad at his earliest opportunity.”
Lord Scriven, deputy leader of the all-party parliamentary group for democracy and human rights in the Gulf region, opened the debate by noting the deterioration of human rights across the region in recent years and questioned whether the UK government’s Gulf Strategy Fund should go ahead should be. “After ten years of British taxpayer-funded aid to these wealthy regimes, their human rights records have deteriorated sharply, often in flagrant violation of international law,” he said.
In addition to the lack of democracy, he referred to “strong restrictions on freedom of expression, political participation and the media. Migrant workers make up the majority of the labor force in every state and are often denied basic rights. Women and LGBT+ people are systematically discriminated against.”
While Qatar’s tally has drawn much media attention in recent days, there has been criticism of all six GCC countries, including mass executions in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait this year.
Labor Party colleague Lord Cashman noted that of the 11 UN member states that prescribe the death penalty for consensual same-sex relationships, three are in the GCC: Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The other Gulf States impose penalties of at least three years for same-sex relationships.
Aside from the government, there was a lone voice in the chamber that offered some support for the Gulf states, with Liberal Democrat colleague Lord Hussain saying the progress Qatar has made in recent years “must be recognized and welcomed”. Lord Hussain said he recently visited Qatar as part of a delegation of parliamentarians from seven European countries invited by Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee.
Lord Ahmad, who is also responsible for human rights, described the debate on behalf of the government as “an insightful, passionate, emotional and detailed insight”.
“It’s important that we have these discussions to highlight these issues and how we are solving them,” he said. “Sometimes you want to cry out in public. As I move out of the front pews and into the back pews, I am sure there will be occasions when I will address these issues much more publicly.”
Lord Ahmad said he regularly raised certain human rights cases with Gulf governments and their ambassadors in London, including the case of Jordanian Hussein Abo al-Kheir, who is on death row in Saudi Arabia – Lord Ahmad said he had the case with one Meetings addressed with the Saudi ambassador this morning.
Earlier in the debate, Green Party colleague Baroness Bennett said Al-Kheir was tortured after his arrest in 2014 to confess to drug-related offences. “He has now spent seven years on death row and was transferred to what is known as death row over the weekend. His execution could come at any moment,” she said.
The debate is unlikely to be the last time the issue of human rights in the Gulf will be raised in the chamber.
“FIFA and world football have put the spotlight on the Gulf States,” said Lord Cashman. “It’s a spotlight that will last long after the final. It is a spotlight that reminds us that what is done against people in other countries is just as important and urgent as if it were happening to us.”