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British MPs urge UK to 'reconsider' Bahrain ties over rights abuses

More than a dozen members of parliament say UK must pressure Bahrain to stop political detentions and end rights abuses
Since the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, Bahrain has launched a comprehensive crackdown on opposition groups and human rights activists.
Since the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, Bahrain has launched a comprehensive crackdown on opposition groups and human rights activists (AFP)

More than a dozen British MPs have renewed calls for the UK government to "reconsider its relationship with Bahrain" in order to secure the release of political prisoners.

In a letter sent to UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on Wednesday, 14 MPs slammed the government for continuing to support Bahrain despite it being listed as one of the country's "human rights priority countries".

"Ahead of the 10th anniversary of the arrest of political leaders and activists in Bahrain for their participation in pro-democracy protests, we, the undersigned, are writing to draw your attention once again to the ongoing suppression of democracy and political opposition in Bahrain," wrote Labour MP Zarah Sultana, who composed the letter.

"It is time to disengage from blind support of those who abuse civil society for the mere expression of opinion," she wrote.

Sultana noted that she wrote a similar letter on Bahrain last month.

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On 17 March 2011, seven prominent opposition leaders were arrested, including Hassan Mushaima, Abdelwahab Hussain, and Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, according to the MPs' letter.

The letter also urged the government to follow its mission statement on Bahrain, to "help Bahrain to return to a stable and reformist state with a good human rights record".

Among the signatories were former UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP Dianne Abbott, and leader of the Liberal Democrat Party Ed Davey.

EU condemns rights violations in Bahrain

Since the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, which saw pro-democracy demonstrators take to the streets of the Gulf nation, the Sunni monarchy has launched a comprehensive crackdown on opposition groups and human rights activists.

A recent report compiled by the London-based BIRD rights group said at least 51 people had been sentenced to death since 2011, with leaders of the protest movement languishing in prison despite promises from the country's leadership to enact reforms.

Last week, the European Union Parliament voted by an overwhelming majority to condemn human rights violations in Bahrain, where the death penalty is retained for a wide range of offences.

Bahrain: Ten years on, pro-democracy movement has been crushed
Read More »

The parliament called on Bahrain to quickly halt the imminent execution of 26 death row prisoners and condemned the ongoing use of torture against detainees and the persecution of human rights defenders.

"[Members of the European Parliament] are deeply concerned that ten years after the Bahraini 'Arab Spring' uprising, in 2011, the human rights situation in the country continues to worsen," it said in a statement.

The letter also comes at a time when leaked documents have come to light showing that Raab has stated that the UK will pursue trade deals with countries irrespective of whether they have poor human rights records.

Raab said he hoped establishing and maintaining trade links with such countries would act as a "positive influence" on their human rights records.

"We don't junk whole relationships because we've got issues – we have a conversation because we want to change the behaviour," Raab said in a phone call, the transcript of which was leaked to UK media.

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