UK's support for Al Khalifa under scrutiny: MPs plan probe

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
The House of Commons of Britain

British MPs are set to hold a general debate on the ongoing detention of Bahraini political prisoners, amid concerns about the UK government's continued support and funding for the Persian Gulf country.

The parliamentary debate, led by Scottish National Party MP Brendan O'Hara, is scheduled to be held in the House of Commons chamber on Thursday, following revelations that London is using taxpayers money to support and fund Bahrain's Interior Ministry and other bodies with responsibilities overseeing detainees.

The debate will provide scrutiny a decade after Britain began funding Bahrain, as political dissidents and opposition figures remain imprisoned in the Manama regime’s jails and detention centers despite constant calls for their release.

"For far too long, the United Kingdom has chosen to turn a blind eye to widespread human rights abuses in Bahrain, while at the same time sending millions of pounds of UK taxpayers money to the [Persian] Gulf state to help it 'reform,'" O'Hara said on Tuesday. 

"There is precious little sign of that 'reform' as more than a decade on from the Arab Spring uprising, Bahrain's jails are still full of political prisoners, many of who have been tortured, and some of who are awaiting execution," he added.

The latest development comes just weeks after Ali Mushaima, the son of jailed Bahraini opposition leader and the secretary general of the Haq Movement, Hasan Mushaima, completed a 23-day hunger strike, demanding the release of his father as well as imprisoned human rights activist Abduljalil Abdulla al-Singace, who are suffering from multiple health problems but are being denied proper healthcare.

Both men are serving life sentences over their role in leading Bahrain's 2011 pro-democracy uprising. They are among the 1,300 political prisoners currently held in the country's notorious Jau prison.

The London-based Bahraini anti-regime activist told the Middle East Eye (MEE) news portal on Tuesday that it gave him hope that the plight of Bahraini political prisoners would be raised in the British parliament, adding that it was time for London to "stop looking the other way when it comes to human rights abuses committed by its allied nations like Bahrain."

According to the MEE, several of the MPs backing the debate were moved to take action after visiting Mushaima outside the Bahraini Embassy in London, where he held his protest. 

The debate also comes after the government disclosed in August, following a freedom of information request filed by the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (Bird), that it is funding Bahrain's Interior Ministry and four oversight bodies that have some responsibility for the treatment of political detainees.

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director of Bird, told MEE there needed to be much more clarity about the UK's role in funding and supporting "violent institutions in Bahrain who are notorious for criminalizing those who dream of democracy in their country."

"Political prisoners in Bahrain have endured over a decade of severe injustices, from unspeakable torture and inhumane prison conditions to systematic denial of medical treatment," Alwadaei said.

"This issue can no longer be ignored, and it is high time for it to be scrutinized within the British parliament, given the UK government's role in backing the ruling Al Khalifah family," he added.

Bahrain has come under pressure from human rights organizations over its prison conditions, including overcrowding, poor sanitation, and lack of medical care.

Back in December, the European Center for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) voiced concern over the deplorable condition of imprisoned Bahraini pro-democracy campaigners, urging the international community, particularly the European Union and the UK, to address grave human rights violations in Bahrain, and to exercise political and international pressure on Bahraini authorities to take steps toward democratic reform in the Persian Gulf kingdom.

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.

The ruling Al Khalifah regime, however, has been brutally cracking down on political dissent.

Britain has largely ignored calls for adopting a tougher policy in dealing with Bahrain. London has continued to support the regime in Manama with various arms and weapons while it has also established a new naval base in the country.

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