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British MPs slam government for prioritizing trade above human rights abuses in Bahrain

In this file picture, an anti-regime protester is arrested by Bahraini regime forces during a protest in front of the Ministry of Interior in Manama, Bahrain. (Photo by Reuters)

A group of British lawmakers have condemned the UK government for turning a “blind eye” on human rights abuses in Bahrain, demanding an end of funding to the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom.

During a backbench debate on Thursday, the parliamentarians pointed to the ongoing repression in the tiny Persian Gulf country, and expressed exasperation over the United Kingdom's staunch support for the ruling Al Khalifah regime in Bahrain.

“After a decade of Britain love-bombing Bahrain, there has been no improvement in their behavior,” Scottish National Party legislator Brendan O'Hara, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Democracy and Human Rights in the Persian Gulf, said.

He added, “While the United Kingdom sends more and more taxpayers cash to Bahrain, the oppression and detention of prisoners in Bahrain continues.”

The discussion, O'Hara noted, coincided with the 190th day of a hunger strike by Abduljalil al-Singace.

Singace, who was sentenced to life imprisonment for his pro-democracy activism during the popular Bahraini uprising, has been on hunger strike since July 18 last year in protest against his mistreatment at notorious Jau prison.

Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael also called for the Bahraini Minister of Interior Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifah to be placed under Magnitsky sanctions “for his role in overseeing appalling human rights violations and a culture of impunity”.

Labour MP Bambos Charalambous, shadow Middle East minister, said, “This is clearly not a partisan, party political matter. It’s clear that standing up for human rights for political prisoners in Bahrain and beyond transcends party politics.”

“It's not a matter of right or left, but a matter of right or wrong. If we, as members of parliament, are not prepared to stand up for what is right on the eve of a free trade deal with Bahrain, then when will we be?” he noted.

The British lawmakers’ criticism comes as 1,400 political prisoners, including many imprisoned for their roles in Bahrain’s 2011 pro-democracy uprising, remain behind bars. Human rights groups have slammed the kingdom's authorities for unfair trials and torture of prisoners.

The UK has financially supported Bahrain for a decade, including through the opaquely run Persian Gulf Strategy Fund.

The British government revealed last August that the fund is supporting Bahrain's interior ministry as well as four other bodies, which oversee detainees.

Back in April last year, Bahrain’s most prominent cleric Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim said drawing up a new constitution was the only way out of the political crisis in the protest-hit tiny Persian Gulf country, urging the regime in Manama to pursue an agreement with the Bahraini opposition instead of increasingly suppressing dissent.

Demonstrations have been held in Bahrain on a regular basis ever since a popular uprising began in mid-February 2011. 

The participants demand that the Al Khalifah regime relinquish power and allow a just system representing all Bahrainis to be established.

Manama, however, has gone to great lengths to clamp down on any sign of dissent.

On March 5, 2017, Bahrain’s parliament approved the trial of civilians at military tribunals in a measure blasted by human rights campaigners as being tantamount to the imposition of an undeclared martial law countrywide.

King Hamad ratified the constitutional amendment on April 3, 2017.     

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