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UK Commons leader echoes call for Bahrain to release opposition figures

Mark Spencers' support of MPs' call for immediate release of imprisoned opposition leaders comes as UK ministers confirm they raised case of Abduljalil al-Singace with Bahraini officials
Lord President and Leader of the UK's House of Commons Mark Spencer speaking on Thursday (Parliament Live)

The leader of the UK's House of Commons has supported calls for the release of imprisoned Bahraini opposition figures, the first time campaigners say the government has made such a call publicly.

The comments from Mark Spencer came during Thursday's business questions in the commons. He was responding to concerns raised by Scottish National Party MP Martyn Day over Abduljalil al-Singace, an academic who is serving a life sentence over his participation in the kingdom's 2011 uprising

Singace, 60, has been on a hunger strike from eating solid foods for just over a year, in protest against his treatment in prison, including the confiscation of a book on linguistics that he had been working on for four years.

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"Could we have a statement from government calling on Bahrain to return Dr Al-Singace's research and to release him and other political opposition leaders immediately from [prison] and unconditionally?" Day said.

Spencer responded: "Well I join the honourable gentleman in that call and I hope the government of Bahrain will be listening."

He then urged Day to raise the matter again during Foreign Office questions when the house is back in session in September.

Bahraini pro-democracy advocates said it was the first time the UK government had taken such a stance publicly and called for further action.

"It's time for the UK government to stand in support of courageous human rights defenders such as Abduljalil Singace and put an end to his suffering," said Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, advocacy director for the UK-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (Bird). 

'Rare call'

Alwadaei noted that Spencer's comments come during the same week that two UK ministers - Lord Ahmad, the minister responsible for human rights; and Amanda Milling, Minister for Asia and the Middle East - confirmed that they raised Singace's case with senior members of Bahrain's government and oversight bodies during recent visits to the country.

Lord Ahmad also said he raised the cases of Mohamed Ramadan and Hussain Moosa, two Bahraini men convicted of killing a policeman in 2014 in what Amnesty International has called a grossly unfair trial, during his February visit to the kingdom.

Milling said in an 18 July letter to Liberal Democratic MP Wera Hobhouse seen by MEE that she had raised Singace's case during a visit this month to Bahrain.

Their disclosures come after repeated, unsuccessful attempts in recent months by MPs and peers to ascertain when specifically UK officials had raised Singace's case with Bahraini officials and bodies during meetings. 

In a statement on Thursday, Day said he welcomed "this rare call" from the UK government for the immediate and unconditional release of the imprisoned opposition leaders.

"This includes people like Dr Al-Singace and Hasan Mushaima who have been languishing unlawfully behind bars for over [a] decade in retaliation for leading calls for democracy," he said. 

"The UK government should now issue a formal statement making their call clear. Ahead of elections in Bahrain this November, the regime must heed growing international demands for these political prisoners to be freed."

Also on Thursday, Liberal Democrat MP Wendy Chamberlain presented an early day motion, signed by 30 cross-party MPs, raising Singace's ongoing hunger strike.  

MEE asked the Foreign Office whether or not it shared Spencer's position on the calls for the release of imprisoned Bahraini opposition figures but did not receive an immediate response on record by the time of publication.