Britain accused of putting principles ‘up for auction’ over £1bn Bahrain deal

Britain has been accused of putting its principles “up for auction” for removing Bahrain from its list of human rights priority countries after sealing a billion-pound investment deal with the Gulf state.

The decision, revealed last Friday in the Government’s 2022 Human Rights and Democracy report, marks a rare instance of a country being removed from the list since it was introduced in 2015.

The Maldives and Burundi were taken off the list in 2020, marking the only removals before now, though no reasons were given for those moves.

The latest instance came 10 days after oil-rich Bahrain announced on Jul 3 that its private sector would invest £1 billion in Britain.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) told The Telegraph the decision reflected Bahrain’s “consistent progress” on human rights “over a number of years”.

But human rights groups and MPs slammed Bahrain’s removal from the list, which is made up of countries the UK says it will “focus its efforts” on and “can make a real difference” in, arguing there had been no marked improvement to the dire human rights situation in the country.

“I am deeply concerned that the FCDO’s approach to human rights seems to be up for auction,” said Labour MP Chris Bryant.

Political repression

Mr Bryant called on Foreign Secretary James Cleverly to explain the decision in light of Bahrain’s political repression.

“Death row is filled with men tortured into signing false confessions to crimes they did not commit, because they dared call for democratic reforms,” he said.

Bahrain, a Sunni Muslim-ruled state, has a long history of discriminating against its Shia Muslim population, which makes up the majority of the country’s 1.4 million people.

Since a 2011 anti-government uprising led predominantly by Shia muslims, it has jailed thousands of people, including opposition leaders, sometimes in mass trials. It has also moved to dissolve leading opposition groups.

The Telegraph has seen a letter written by Lord Ahmad, the minister of state for the Middle East, in which he confirmed Mr Cleverly had discussed Bahrain’s human rights situation with its crown prince and prime minister the day after they signed the investment deal with Rishi Sunak.

A Downing Street readout of the meeting claimed the £1bn round of investments from Bahrain’s sovereign wealth fund will drive co-operation in clean technology, business services and manufacturing.

But Bahraini opposition group Al Wefaq claimed that London had been “bribed” into a decision that amounted to a “cheap lie”.

After the Telegraph published, the FCDO said that any suggestion the two decisions were correlated would be “wrong” and claimed that the decision was made prior to the Bahraini crown prince’s visit.

Niku Jafarnia, the Bahrain and Yemen researcher for Human Rights Watch, meanwhile refuted many of the human rights improvements Britain said Bahrain had made.

“To state that the Bahraini government respects the right to freedom of religion is a grave misrepresentation of the situation,” she said. “The government has continued to imprison and torture because of religious and political beliefs.”

Lord Scriven, a Liberal Democrat peer, said human rights in the Gulf state had “worsened in recent years, not improved”.

“Downplaying these abuses shames the Government and risks sending the message that the UK’s principles are for sale,” he said.


‘Difficult to comprehend’

Conservative MP Sir Peter Bottomley described the Government’s decision as “difficult to comprehend”, citing the cases of Mohamed Ramadhan and Husain Moosa, who remain at risk of imminent execution in Bahrain.

The two men were convicted of killing a policeman in 2014 following a trial which rights group Amnesty International denounced as “grossly unfair”. Rights groups say the convictions were based on confessions extracted through torture.

The FCDO did not respond when asked to comment on allegations that Bahrain’s removal from the human rights priority countries list was tantamount to selling Britain’s principles.

Figures released earlier this year through freedom of information requests showed the British Government has funnelled about £13m to Bahrain, including to bodies involved in alleged rights abuses, over the past decade through the shadowy Gulf Strategy Fund.

“The UK Government has been laundering human rights abuses in Bahrain for many years: Britain spends millions of pounds of taxpayer money supporting Bahraini institutions that whitewash torture, then ministers claim credit for illusory improvements,” said Dan Dolan from campaigning group Reprieve.

Source: Telegraph