The Independent: Dissidents' fury at Hammond's 'secret' visit to Bahrain

2015-05-04 - 7:52 p

Bahrain Mirror: The Independent reported that Bahraini Dissidents in UK condemned Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond for secretly visiting Bahrain. They challenged him at an election hustings in his ultra-safe seat of Runnymede and Weybridge on Thursday.

The newspaper further added that Mr. Hammond told the campaigners, including Sayed Alwadaei, director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights & Democracy, that he had "very frank conversations" with the regime but he regards "Bahrain as a very friendly country that is moving in the right direction".  It also stated that Mr. Hammond "paid what a Whitehall source described as a "courtesy call" to the Bahrain Crown Prince last Sunday", and pointed out that he "exchanged pleasantries with Prince Salman al-Khalifa. Meanwhile, and on the same day, Bahrain extended the detention of its most prominent critic, Nabeel Rajab, for a further two weeks on charges of spreading "false news" on twitter.

The Independent reported that "the Foreign Office (FCO) refused to say if Mr. Hammond raised Mr. Rajab's case at the meeting". It recounted the opinion of Allan Hogarth, Amnesty head of policy and government affairs, stating that he dismissed Mr. Hammond's claim that the situation was improving. "It's hard to see what's right about a direction of travel which is leading to the jailing of government critics, the holding of prisoners of conscience, and persistent reports of torture in detention. Mr. Hammond needs to urgently revise his rose-tinted view of Bahrain," he said.  It also reported the question of Kerry McCarthy, shadow foreign minister for human rights. She asked  why the trip had not been made public sooner; "People will rightly ask why, unlike other international trips he has undertaken since Parliament rose, he has so far made no public statement on the visit," she said. "In recent months the Government has failed to explain why Bahrain is not classified as a ‘country of concern' by the FCO's annual human rights report, and it is in this context that questions will now be asked about his visit."

The Independent also added the opinion of Mr. Alwadaei, who was stripped of his Bahraini citizenship in a clampdown by the regime this year, about the UK's policy. He said: "It's clear that the UK policy has failed in Bahrain and only serves to whitewash violations. We're seeing the US publicly urging for Nabeel's release while Hammond rubs shoulders with members of Bahrain's ruling family about further military and economic cooperation. What message does that send?"

Describing Bahraini leaders as "repressive ", the Independent added that nothing was said publicly about the trip at the time, although the Foreign office has now confirmed it took place. An FCO spokesperson said: "The Foreign Secretary met his Bahraini counterpart last week for discussions on regional and bilateral issues, during a stop-over following a visit to Baghdad. We are following Mr Rajab's arrest closely. Our Embassy has raised the case with the Bahraini authorities and we encourage the government of Bahrain to ensure due process is followed and international norms of justice, including freedom of expression, are upheld."

The newspaper pointed out to the fact that this visit came amid attempts by the UK to sell BAE Typhoon Fighters jet to Bahrain.


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