My wife is due to have a baby at the end of this week. Like many expectant parents, my wife and I have chosen a name, honouring her grandmother. We have bought her clothes, toys, and prepared our home to welcome her, but one thing is still unknown: what nationality she will have. If the Home Office further delays our application, she could be born stateless.
For defending democracy and human rights in my home country, Bahrain, during the Arab spring, I endured torture, imprisonment and was forced into exile in the UK. But, until now, I hadn’t seen the consequences of my activism torment the people closest to me.
This month, my family is being tested to the limits. My mother passed away, my daughter may be born stateless, and my wife’s mother, brother and cousin face long prison sentences as their unfair trial in Bahrain rushes to a conclusion. The fate of each is tied to their relationship with me. The British government knows our plight, and Middle East minister Alistair Burt has just visited Bahrain, and knows the ordeal my family is suffering at that government’s hands. Yet the UK has done nothing but whitewash the Bahraini government’s awful record of abuses.
Living in exile, unable to return, is heartbreaking. When my mother’s health deteriorated this month, nothing was more painful to me than being so far from her side when she died. A video call hours before her death was all we had. I could not attend her funeral – she who gave me my strength and values. That she could not see me for the last five years of her life caused her endless suffering. I left Bahrain fleeing torture and had to wish goodbye to my own mother there and then.
Three months ago, we applied for indefinite leave to remain, following the completion of five years leave to remain as a refugee. But if the Home Office does not process our application before my daughter’s birth, she will be born stateless. This will be considered a failure in the UK’s own obligation to avoid statelessness under the 1954 and 1961 UN conventions.
The Bahraini government revoked my citizenship in 2015 in response to my human rights work. This “punishment” tears families apart, because Bahraini law prohibits mothers from passing their citizenship to their children. The UK has been one of the leading countries fighting statelessness worldwide. Yet when it comes to their allies – Bahrain hosts a Royal Navy base – the government barely note the cases.
We will be naming our daughter Hajer, after my wife’s mother. She, along with my wife’s brother and cousin, Nizar and Mahmood, were arrested in March 2017, ill-treated and tortured, and coerced into falsely confessing to criminal offences. Nizar is only 18 and was deprived of sleep for two days, badly tortured, and suffered death threats unless he falsely confessed to planting a “fake bomb” and implicated the rest of his family. Mahmood was arrested, beaten and prosecuted solely for being with Nizar when the police came for him. My wife’s mother, Hajer, fainted after being forced to stand without end in interrogations and had to be taken to hospital. Hajer and Nizar were questioned for hours about every detail of my life in the UK, even the length of my commute.
The current evidence against them is confessions extracted under torture, nothing more: there are no fingerprints, no DNA, no forensic evidence. Yet these “confessions” will be enough to sentence them to long imprisonment. My family expect a verdict on 30 October.
Despite taking refuge in the UK from torture and trying to begin our lives anew here, we feel betrayed by the British government. Despite bringing the case to their attention repeatedly, and despite the condemnation of six UN experts, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office does not appear to have raised the case. When asked about the torture my family suffered, Burt suggested we make a complaint to the UK-trained police ombudsman in Bahrain – a body that UN torture experts have condemned as ineffective and non-independent. The UK took the same line when my wife, Duaa, was beaten, dragged and interrogated in Bahrain airport following a protest I attended in London last year. The Foreign Office provided no help then either, despite the fact that Bahrain was clearly punishing her because I had exercised my right to protest here in the UK.
The British government and establishment has ignored these transgressions, staying silent when the Bahrain embassy in London defamed me and my family after everything the Bahraini government put us through. The embassy tried to justify our persecution by calling me a “convicted criminal,” a “terrorist”, and accused my family of living on the “edge of legality”. That Bahrain considers peaceful campaigning to be terrorism tells you everything you need to know.
While we suffer the Bahraini government’s intolerance to human rights, the heads of that government are welcomed with open arms by the British establishment.
My wife’s family will be sentenced next Monday. Our daughter is due three days earlier. Will the FCO apply serious pressure to Bahrain, so her grandmother, uncle and cousin don’t end up serving lengthy imprisonment as a reprisal for my activities in London? Will the Home Office process our application for residency so my daughter will not be born stateless? The government’s attitude raises serious doubts in my mind.
• Sayed Alwadaei is director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy
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