UK statements supportive of Bahrain’s ruling Al Khalifa family are nothing new, but the tone and timing of Tuesday's comments by foreign secretary Philip Hammond are the worst and most cynical yet.
Less than 24 hours before rights activist Nabeel Rajab received a six-month jail sentence for a tweet criticising Bahrain’s security forces and at a time when opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salmon remains illegally detained, Hammond claimed Bahrain’s rulers are “traveling in the right direction” and making “significant reform”.
While Hammond was talking up progress in Bahrain, video footage emerged of a confrontation between protestors attempting to stage a sit-in near Sheikh Ali Salman’s home and security forces in the town of Bilad Al Qadeem. It shows a protestor approaching the rear of an armored personnel carrier which is spattered with white paint thrown by protestors. But all this protestor has in his hands is a picture of Sheikh Salman, which he holds up in defiance. A hatch opens from the back of the vehicle and the barrel of a shotgun sticks out and fires a round of birdshot at the protestor’s head from a distance of around 10 metres, leaving him severely injured with blood pouring from wounds to his face.
How does Hammond square this with his absurd statements about reform? And why is the UK – which claims to have a global commitment to support human rights defenders – so silent about the abuse and repression meted out to courageous human rights activists in Bahrain? These activists should be part of a real dialogue about how to build a more inclusive future for all Bahrainis, not imprisoned for their peaceful dissent. And Britain should be speaking up for their rights and not siding with those who are repressing them.