Unpopular kings give sour taste to Queen's Jubilee lunch at Windsor

Human rights groups criticise guest list that included despotic King of Bahrain

It was supposed to be a celebration filled with regal splendour which would herald the beginning of the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations.

But even before the poached eggs and noisettes of lamb had been served a row was raging over Britain’s decision to extend invites to a string of controversial unelected monarchs.

The autocratic leaders of Bahrain and Swaziland, a prominent Saudi Arabian prince and the next in line to Thailand’s throne were among some of the more controversial dignitaries at today's “Monarchs’ Lunch” in Windsor Castle.

The Foreign Office insisted that invitations for the lunch and a subsequent dinner at Buckingham Palace were sent out to all the world’s national sovereigns. But the Queen was roundly criticised for allowing some of more contentious and extravagant royal families to dine with her.

The most controversial person on yesterday’s guest list was King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain. His regime has been roundly condemned by human rights groups for the slow pace of reforms and politicised trials that have taken place since widespread protests to his family’s rule broke out last year leading to the deaths of more than 60 people.

Only this week new allegations emerged suggesting a young man who was found dead earlier this year may have been tortured to death. An official report into the death of 23-year-old Yousef Mowali in January declared that he had drowned in the sea off the island of Bahrain. However a second autopsy published this week by an independent pathologist from Turkey found evidence that Mr Mowali may have been electrocuted and was unconscious when he drowned.

Eye-brows were also raised over the inclusion of the King of Swaziland whose retinue opted to stay in the £400 a night Savoy hotel despite presiding over a country where the average annual wage is little more than £1,500. Exiled Swazis protested outside the hotel on Wednesday night criticising sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch for his playboy lifestyle and spending habits.

Although Thailand’s monarchy heads up a constitutional democracy like Britain’s the inclusion of the country’s Crown Prince comes at a time of renewed debate and anger over Thailand’s stringent lese majeste laws. Earlier this month a 61-year-old man died in prison just months after he was handed down a 20-year jail term for sending offensive text messages about Thailand’s queen. 

Opposition politicians in Bahrain told The Independent that King Hamad’s invitation to Windsor Castle sent out worrying signals that Britain was normalising relations with the Gulf Kingdom despite continued violence and dissatisfaction over the slow pace of promised reforms.

“This invitation is a gift to the regime and the hardliners,” said Matar Ebrahim, a prominent member of the Shi’a opposition party al Wefaq. “It will be the moderates and those who want to see reforms take place who will suffer. The British seemed to have reached the conclusion that they don’t need the Bahraini people, just the Khalifa regime.”

Maryam al-Khawaja, whose father Abdulhadi is a prominent imprisoned opposition leader currently on hunger strike in a military jail, added: “The invitation is outrageous. It is salt in the wounds of the Bahraini people who have already had to pay such a high price in trying to push for greater freedoms.”

British based opposition activists said they would join forces with the anti-monarchy group Republic to protest outside Buckingham Palace. Graham Smith, the chief executive of Republic said: “The Queen’s decision to personally invite these tyrants to lunch sends an appalling message to the world, and seriously damages Britain’s reputation. Thanks to the Queen’s misjudgement, her jubilee will forever be associated with some of the most repressive regimes in the world.”

A Buckingham Palace spokesperson refused to comment on the row. The Foreign Office defended its decision to invite King Hamad of Bahrain. “The UK is a long standing friend and ally of Bahrain and Ministers regularly meet with Bahraini counterparts in the UK and abroad,“ a spokesperson said. ”We work together closely on a range of important issues.”

The Bahraini embassy in London did not return requests from The Independent for comment.

Royal Guests: The roll of dishonour

1. Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn (Thailand)

King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s only son is first in line for the Thai throne. The monarchy has been mired in an ongoing controversy over the country’s strict lèse-majesté laws, which carry long jail sentences for slights against royal members. They have been used in increasing numbers, often to stifle political dissent.

2.Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa (Bahrain)

The head of Bahrain’s Khalifa dynasty has been criticised for his country’s violent crackdown of predominantly Shia Muslim opposition protests. Bahrain insists it is implementing reforms, but human-rights groups have heavily criticised the pace of change and continued violence.

3. Mswati III (Swaziland)

Sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch is estimated to be worth £100m by Forbes. Many of his 1.2 million subjects, however, live in poverty. Protests against the King’s spending have previously broken out, forcing him to cancel a recent jubilee celebration.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk