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UK rights group urges queen to tackle Bahrain king on repression

Reprieve calls on queen to raise growing repression, torture and executions when she meets Gulf state's king at Windsor Horse show
Queen Elizabeth with Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa (AFP)

British rights activists have called on the queen to protest against rising repression, torture and executions in Bahrain when she meets the Gulf state's king in the UK on Friday.

Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa will host the British queen and 19 other guests inside a "Kingdom of Bahrain lounge" at the Windsor Horse show.

Rights group Reprieve says the meeting comes amid a crackdown on political dissent in the kingdom. The Bahraini authorities recently resumed executions after a six-year moratorium, executing three political protestors who had been sentenced based on forced "confessions". 

At least two more political prisoners are expected to be executed in the next few months.

Maya Foa, the director of Reprieve, said that the British government should use the queen to protest against "Bahrain's use of torture and executions to silence opponents".

"Make no mistake, visits like this gift the Bahraini government a royal cloak of acceptability, while the Kingdom mercilessly executes political prisoners and uses torture to extract 'confessions'.

"Theresa May wants stronger UK-Gulf relations, but we must not help the Bahrainis to whitewash their appalling abuses," said Foa. 

The UK support includes the training of hundreds of guards on Bahrain's death row, where "torture of political prisoners is rife," according to human rights groups.

Researchers from Reprieve had also found that the British government has given substantial support to Bahrain's criminal justice system, despite human rights concerns. 

Last year's show sparked controversy when King Hamad's son, Prince Nasser, was in attendance despite fighting a high court case that accused him of perpetrating acts of torture during the pro-democracy uprisings in 2011. 

The High Court ruled that the prince was not entitled to any form of diplomatic immunity for the allegations of torture.

Five human rights group, including the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy and Index on Censorship, called for the horse show to sever its ties with Bahrain until stronger ethical commitments were in place. 

It also called on Land Rover, a commercial partner of the show, to end its partnership "unless human rights commitments are adopted, including the exclusion of states engaged in human rights abuses from sponsoring the event."

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, the director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, said the Bahraini government "operates with violence and vengeance".

"It is deeply unfortunate that the Queen and her horse show are being used to cover up this disastrous rights record," he said.

Alwadaei, who protested King Hamad's attendance of the horse show in 2013, was stripped of his citizenship two years later.

Since March 2017, his mother-in-law and brother-in-law have been arrested, tortured and unfairly tried

Civilian referred to military court

Bahrain’s authorities recently referred a civilian to trial before a military court for the first time since 2011, after the king of Bahrain ratified a constitutional amendment that allows citizens to be tried in military courts. 

Fadhel Sayed Abbas Hasan Radhi was forcibly disappeared for more than seven months after his arrest on 29 September 2016 by Criminal Investigations Directorate officers at his family home in Hamad Town, south-west of the capital, Manama. 

According to Amnesty International, his family were not told where he was being taken or the grounds for his arrest and did not hear from him until two weeks later when he called and told them his whereabouts for the first time.

Earlier this month, Maryam Khawaja, who is the daughter of jailed human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, told Middle East Eye that the situation in Bahrain has deteriorated significantly in the last few months. 

"In Bahrain, we don't have a justice system, we have an injustice system that is used to silence dissent and anyone who criticises the government," said Khawaja. 

Speaking about her father who is currently on hunger strike, Khawaja said: "When he sees the situation actually getting worst with executions, with arbitrary arrests and all that stuff, this is his way of protesting."

Last month, a coalition of human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch had called on Bahrain to halt it's "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of political prisoners".

There are currently 13 individuals on death row in Bahrain, six of them sentenced in March 2017. Two men, Mohammad Ramadan and Husain Moosa, allege torture and unfair trial and have exhausted all legal appeals.

Hundreds of Bahrainis continue to be imprisoned after a violent crackdown against anti-government activists. 

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