I fled Bahrain during the Arab spring, but my wife, and her family in Bahrain, are being punished for my human rights protests in London – why won’t the UK act?
Thu 22 Mar 2018 09.00 GMT
Protesters try to attack the car carrying the King of Bahrain as he arrives at Downing Street in London, October 2016.
Protesters try to attack the car carrying the King of Bahrain as he arrives at Downing Street in London, October 2016. Photograph: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP
Yesterday was Mother’s Day in Bahrain. And it was yesterday that my wife, Duaa Alwadaei, the beloved mother of my two children, was handed a prison sentence. Not because she committed any crime, but because I protested in London when the King of Bahrain visited Downing Street in 2016. She is not the only one to face reprisals because of my human rights activism in London. Her mother, brother and cousin all languish in Bahrain’s notorious prisons. Tortured and convicted after a flawed trial.
The police, prisons and courts that have done this to my family were all trained by Britain, in multimillion-pound projects funded by the UK taxpayer. Far from raising human rights standards in Bahrain, British-trained bodies have failed to investigate torture allegations – paving the way for Bahrain’s kangaroo courts to sentence people based on coerced confessions.
Seven years ago, in the Arab spring, my people rose up in defiance of Bahrain’s ruling family, the Khalifa dynasty. They have reigned over us since 1783, mostly as an absolute monarchy, propped up by British arms and political support. Our protests for democracy were met with live ammunition – fired at us by foreign mercenaries. Tanks, made in Britain, rolled into Bahrain from neighbouring Saudi Arabia and targeted anyone who remained in the streets. I fled, to escape more torture and persecution, and sought sanctuary in the UK.
From the apparent safety of London, I continued to campaign for freedom in Bahrain. With my colleagues at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, I have constantly exposed the regime’s human rights abuses, unlawful executions, torture and unfair trials. The Bahraini embassy in London monitors exiles in London. Last year, embassy staff threw hot water from a balcony on to protesters outside. Rather than targeting us directly in Britain, the Bahraini authorities prefer to do something far more cowardly: they target my wife’s family, who still live in Bahrain.
My brother-in-law, just 18, was stripped naked, threatened with rape, and told he came from “a dirty family”
It started the day King Hamad visited Theresa May in October 2016. I threw myself in the way of his limousine as it drove through the gates of Downing Street. I wanted to remind him of the political prisoners in our country who are on death row. I was arrested and released in short order, but my protests had the King’s ear. That same night, my wife and infant son were due to leave Bahrain for London, after visiting her family. When she reached the airport in Manama, our son was snatched away from her by the security services. She was interrogated for seven hours about my work in the UK, our families were threatened, and she was told that if she dared to speak about what had happened, she would be tossed in jail on a fabricated charge. Human Rights Watch described her treatment as “terrorising”.
Three days later, we were able to secure safe passage for my wife and son out of Bahrain to London. But the threats made to my wife soon became real. Last March, her mother, brother and cousin were all arrested on trumped-up charges of planting a fake bomb. They were tortured and forced into making false confessions without lawyers present. My mother-in-law, Hajer Mansoor, fainted during her interrogation. My brother-in-law, Sayed Nizar, who had just turned 18, was stripped naked, threatened with rape, and told he came from “a dirty family” because of my pro-democracy activism. All of their interrogations related to my human rights work. In October last year they were sentenced to three years imprisonment based on coerced confessions under torture. My brother-in-law was punished further: he received an additional three years on identical charges, and is expecting a verdict on a third charge next week. Meanwhile, my mother-in-law is currently on hunger strike, protesting her humiliating treatment by the prison officers at Isa Town prison.
How Bahrain uses sport to whitewash a legacy of torture and human rights abuses
Some British MPs were rightly outraged that the Foreign Office did not use its leverage with the Bahraini regime to put an end to this torture-by-association. When Tom Brake MP contacted the Bahraini embassy about the treatment of my wife’s family, the embassy said they had been “convicted by an independent Bahraini court”. But this response came a week before they had been convicted of any crime. The Bahraini government escalated the reprisals by triggering a legal case in absentia against my wife.
This is how the Bahraini authorities respond to protests in London and Bahrain. British taxpayers should be particularly offended. After all, public money has been spent on training Bahrain’s police in protest management. Bahraini police officers have even visited Belfast to learn from the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Political exiles, Bahraini or Russian, should be able to live peacefully in the UK without fear of reprisals against them or their families. If the British government cannot guarantee that, then it should stop subsidising these foreign thugs.
• Sayed Alwadaei is director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy
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