The UK should put Bahrain blood before oil

Rohan Jayasekera
Bahrain 300x225 The UK should put Bahrain blood before oil


Most international observers would agree with the UK Foreign Affairs Committee’s conclusion that the Foreign Office should have listed the Gulf island Kingdom of Bahrain as a ‘country of concern’ more than a year ago. Since February 2011 and the start of protests against state corruption and discrimination against Bahrain’s Shi’a majority populace, the government has driven a fierce crackdown on protesters, bloggers, civil society leaders and ordinary citizens caught up in the crisis.

Instead the country was left off the list, reflecting Britain’s significant business commitments in the country and the desire of some in Whitehall to treat Bahrain as a ‘country of un-concern’ when the UK’s commitment to human rights is tested there. The MPs were diplomatic, finding it “difficult” to discern “any consistency of logic” in the UK government’s response to boycott calls around 2012’s European Championship games in Ukraine but avoiding taking a position on similar calls around the Bahrain Grand Prix.

The issue is not a consistency of logic, but a consistency of oil, and in particular the government’s unwillingness to antagonise Bahrain’s strongest ally, Saudi Arabia, which has warned the UK off from “interference in the workings” of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) alliance, which comprises Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE and Oman.

Index on Censorship continues to protest the denial of freedom of expression in the country. Bahrain’s media is severely controlled, and its public attacks on human rights defenders are directly or indirectly coordinated by the government. The regime wields a 2002 press law that allows prison sentences for critics of the regime and Article 246 of the country’s penal code which blocks reporting on the current round of arrests.

Several websites have been forcibly shut down or banned, including the pro-democracy site Bahrain Online, founded by rights activist and blogger Ali Abdulemam. Bahrain’s cyber defamation laws — which include the publication of “fake news” — were revised in September, resulting in heavier monitoring of social media networks to tackle the “misuse” of such platforms. Index award winner Nabeel Rajab of the Bahrain Human Rights Center is currently appealing a three-year sentence for organising pro-democracy rallies via social networks.

On Wednesday the country’s Interior Ministry announced the arrest of four people for defaming public figures on social media. A fifth is still sought. The ministry said that the suspects confessed to their crime, which could result in a jail sentence of up to five years. The claim of ‘confessions’ rings an immediate alarm bell. Many suspects have been tortured to extract ‘confessions’ on fabricated charges, later admitted as evidence in court in contravention of international law.

Bahrain uses military courts to try civilians, and continues to sentence them to jail time way out of proportion to the supposed offence. Suspects are routinely ill-treated in detention, held incommunicado and denied access to family and lawyers. All of this has been documented in detail by an independent commission of inquiry set up by the King of Bahrain in July 2011, which reported it in November. Described as a “substantial and respected report,” by UK MPs, it found clear evidence of torture and of physical and psychological abuse of detainees.

Yet the abuses go on. In one of several reports of general human rights abuse recorded by Index in recent months, five medics were arrested in dawn raids on October 2, just a day after the nation’s highest court upheld their prison sentences in a case international rights groups have condemned as politically motivated.

The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report should be acted on. It called for, among other things, the founding of an independent and impartial Bahraini national commission to follow up and implement the BICIs recommendations. The commission was founded as asked, but its members were selected by the King leaving its independence and impartiality in doubt, but its ineffectiveness unchallengable.

The BICI also called on Bahrain to reopen the cases taken to military trial. It also sought for all convictions and sentences by the National Security Courts, where fundamental principles of a fair trial had not been respected, to be subject to review in civilian courts. Such action would only be a start at finally addressing the long list of rights abuses in Bahrain.

Index CEO Kirsty Hughes has said: ‘The government has been inconsistent in its approach to uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. With Bahrain, it has allowed business interests to override human rights concerns and not put sufficient pressure on the Bahrain government to reform.’ The UK needs to get its priorities straight and put Bahrani blood before oil.

Rohan Jayasekera is Associate Editor and Deputy Chief Executive of Index on Censorship

For more information on Index on Censorship visit

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  • pyrrho48

    why? it’s not our business how they run their affairs or to take sides. I neither ask nor care if my suppliers are jolly good chaps.

  • Firozali A.Mulla

    . Here we go we have debt crises and
    what do the leaders talk I think that to get under the surface and really appreciate the beauty
    of a country, one has to go there poor. -Grace Moore, actress and singer
    Cameron has proposed
    that young children from each of the 27European Union member
    states accept the Nobel
    peace prize on behalf
    of the EU, rather than senior commission officials. The ceremony on 10 December
    in Oslo follows the surprise decision by the Nobel committee to hand its
    prestigious annual award to the EU for its
    contribution to world peace. It is expected that senior commission
    officials will attend. At a post-EU-summit press conference, Cameron avoided
    mocking the awarding of the prize, a position adopted by some British
    Eurosceptic, but said his counter-proposals for children to attend the ceremony
    remained on the table. I thank you Firozali A. Mulla DBA

  • muggerbe

    Don’t hold your breath waiting for this hypocrisy on the part of the British to end. Britain has lost any moral authority it may once have had by slavishly following the USA in everything. It supports the most oppressive dictatorships as long as they are sympathetic to its interests. In the case of Bahrain there is the added benefit for the USA and Britain that they are putting a spoke in Iran’s wheel.

  • Jessica Willard

    What a ridiculous tired phrase: “blood before oil”. You do realize you get less than 10% of your oil from the Arabian Gulf countries don’t you? In fact, approximately 75% of your oil comes from Norway.

    Straighten out your own disastrous country and leave other countries to work out their issues according to their own culture. The Arab countries really don’t need my US or your UK telling them what to do.

  • Salman AJ

    1. What does “consistency of logic” even mean? Both the Ukraine and Bahrain are sovereign countries, issues independent from each other, and so must be assessed differently. It is unfair to compare the situation of Ukraine to Bahrain simply because it falls under the same sub-headline of “human rights”. There is no formula that can just be imposed on everyone to ensure the “consistency” of foreign policy.

    2. People continue to use various platforms to voice their opinions, primarily social media. Yes, freedom of expression is a guaranteed right, but given its influence and impact, one must not abuse this power in an environment where social unity is of utmost importance.

    3. If you were interested in following up with the major achievements of the country, you can view them here You will notice many of the BICI recommendations have been implemented, even the ones you write that have not.

    Unfortunately, Bahrain is a victim of the Arab Spring context and are unfairly stereotyped. They admitted their mistakes and are strenuously working to correct all of them. People that continue to hijack the legitimate grievances of moderate opposition members widen the social divide, and is counter-productive to their very cause.

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