British and French governments criticise court’s rejection of appeal by activists involved in Arab spring protests
Britain has expressed “deep dismay” at a decision by Bahrain’s highest court to reject an appeal by 13 opposition activists who were convicted of involvement in the Arab spring protests in 2011.
Eight of 20 defendants were given life sentences, part of a crackdown on dissent since anti-government demonstrations erupted in the Sunni-ruled kingdom, home to the US navy’s fifth fleet.
The court refused to reconsider the sentences or convictions, which were handed down by a military-led tribunal created under temporary martial law-style rules. The other 12 received sentences ranging from five to 15 years, with seven convicted in absentia. The activists have claimed they faced abuses while in custody. They were denied access to legal counsel and coerced into confessing
The high-profile case has brought international pressure to bear on Bahrain, criticised even by its friends for failing to implement reforms recommended by an independent commission of inquiry.
Monday’s strongly-worded statement by UK Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt reflected that. France’s foreign ministry also expressed regret at the Bahraini court ruling and said it had hoped for leniency to help promote reconciliation. Amnesty International said: “This unjust decision will confirm the view of many that the judiciary is more concerned about toeing the government’s line than upholding the rule of law and the rights of all Bahrainis.”
Bahraini opposition activists, meanwhile, have protested that a British parliamentary committee has excluded critical evidence submitted to it for a controversial inquiry into UK relations with Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
MPs on the foreign affairs committee are being asked to explain why the list of submissions it will use as evidence omits representations on democracy and human rights. Committee sources said further submissions would probably be accepted and that any delay was purely for technical reasons.
The committee’s inquiry has been troubled since it was announced last year. Saudi Arabia, which led the Gulf force which intervened in Bahrain in support of the government, said it was “insulted” by the inquiry and hinted heavily at possible repercussions for the kingdom’s extensive economic relations with the UK.
The issue is likely to come up in talks in London on Wednesday between William Hague, the foreign secretary, and Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the recently appointed Saudi interior minister and a possible future contender for the throne. It also cast a shadow over David Cameron’s visit to Saudi Arabia last November. The Foreign Office categorises the kingdom as a “country of concern” in terms of human rights, but its criticism is discreet.
The Bahraini opposition supporters said: “We would … like to raise objections over the disproportionate number of published submissions from organisations and individuals that have ties to the Bahrain government, whether financial or structural, but who do not make these affiliations clear.” It estimated that one-third of submissions had such links.
Four former British ambassadors to Bahrain have submitted evidence. William Patey, a former British ambassador to Riyadh, has been appointed an adviser to the FAC enquiry, raising eyebrows about the impartiality of the process.