Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Backing Bahrain

At the Queen’s birthday event, held at the British embassy in Bahrein, 200 guests attended, including deputy prime minister Sheikh Khalid bin Abdulla al-Khalifa, a key member of the ruling family. Funds from the conflict, stability and security fund (CSSF), which is aimed at tackling conflicts and building stability overseas, were used to send the Royal Marines band to Bahrain,  invited to the Gulf state at the request of the Bahrain Defence Force and Ministry of Interior. The event at the British embassy took place only weeks before the king travelled to Britain to sit in pride of place next to the Queen at her 90th birthday extravaganza at Windsor Castle.

Torture and other abuses remain common in Bahrain, according to Amnesty International, and the government continues to curtail freedom of expression, association and assembly. Sayed al-Wadaei, director of advocacy at the London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (Bird), called the CSSF and the UK’s  relationship with Bahrain "toxic".

It raises the question of London’s complicity in whitewashing abuse in Bahrain. It comes days after authorities in the country rounded up 32 dissidents in a clampdown on the eve of a key UN human rights session. In March, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa approved a constitutional amendment that allows military courts to try civilians.

The RM'S band’s visit was just one of 37 events, exchanges or training programmes offered to Bahrain by British armed forces since 2015, raising the possibility of UK complicity in abuses. The training, which took place in Bahrain and in the UK, and was paid for by a mixture of CSSF, UK military, and Bahrain government funding, including elite commando training and officer training at the Sandhurst military academy. It also included Royal Navy visits to Bahrain and Royal Air Force training in “air battle management” to improve the Gulf state’s strike capability to the dismay of those who say Bahrain is playing a key role in the  Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen.
“If the British government is really interested in Bahrain’s stability, it should criticise its Gulf ally for crushing the life out of its peaceful opposition,” said Nicholas McGeehan, a Bahrain researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Instead it seems to play the role of cheerleader-in-chief, rolling out the red carpet, and providing British pomp and splendour at every available opportunity, while Bahrain fills its jails."

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