Lord Avebury, vice-chair of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group, chairing a press conference given by Dr Salah al-Bandar, a British citizen who was expelled from Bahrain on September 13, in Committee Room 3A, House of Lords, at 11.00 on Thursday October 5, said:
Dr al-Bandar, a British citizen who had lived in Bahrain for 16 years was expelled from Bahrain for blowing the whistle on a dirty tricks gang run by the Minister of Cabinet Affairs and head of the Central Information Organisation, Sheikh Ahmed bin Attiyatallah al-Khalifa.
According to Dr al-Bandar, the Minister paid five main operatives a total of more than $2.7 million to run:
1. a secret intelligence cell spying on Shi’as
2. ‘GONGOS’ – government operated bogus NGOs like the ‘Bahraini Jurists Society’ and the ‘Bahraini Human Rights Watch Society’
3. internet forums and websites that foment sectarian hatred
4. subsidisation of ‘new converts’
5. payments for election rigging
Under the heading ‘Bandargate’, The Gulf Daily News has verified the signatures on some of the many documents published by Dr al-Bandar, and the Bahrain Tribune says the report contains hundreds of pages of supporting material, apparently authentic.
There have been no challenges to the authenticity of the documents, and the Minister himself has made no response other than personal attacks on the author. This week, the public prosecutor has announced Dr al-Bandar is being charged with theft and illegal possession of state documents, and will be tried in absentia. This is an admission that Dr al-Bandar’s evidence is genuine.
We can’t say, as Palmerston did in 1850, that “a British subject, in whatever land he may be, shall feel confident that the watchful eye and the strong arm of England will protect him against injustice and wrong”. But we can give a voice to our citizens when they suffer injustice and wrong, especially when they are being punished for upholding high standards of governance and exposing serious misconduct.
Dr al-Bandar is a brave man who deserves the support of his fellow-citizens, and especially at a time when the government of Bahrain – ie the royal family, of which this Minister is a member – is busy silencing its critics. The Public Gatherings, Processions and Assembly Code, ratified on July 20, is the latest attack on freedom of expression, but it is part of a steady erosion of people’s rights. The Foreign Office say that ‘democracy, good governance and human rights are major objectives’ of their policy, and we shall see what they have to say when one of our own citizens is a victim of oppression.