LETTERS : Human rights abuses in Bahrain

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The Independent Online
From Lord Avebury Sir: The reason for the demonstrations mentioned in Michael Sheridan's article "Violent Shia protests embarrass Bahrain" (20 December), was the demand for restoration of the 1973 constitution, under which the state had an elected Parliament. The Emir di s missed the Parliament in 1975 and has ruled by decree since then. The arrest of Sheikh Ali Salman for voicing this demand was only the spark which set off the unrest, and if he had not spoken out, others would have done so.

A petition signed by more than 25,000 people, calling for the restoration, was to have been presented to the Emir on or about 16 December, the Bahraini National Day. The leader chosen to present it was Dr Abdul Latif El Mahmoud, a Sunni Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Bahrain, but it was supported by people from every section of the community.

Few if any of those involved in the demonstrations were from the Persian-speaking minority, which constitutes 15 per cent of the population. There is no question of revival of Iranian claims to Bahrain, which were disposed of by the United Nations nearlya quarter of a century ago.

We have a list of 79 people arrested since the troubles began on 5 December but we know that the actual total is much higher. Four people are known to have been killed by the security forces, and others are critically injured. Under the emergency law prevailing in Bahrain, a person may be detained without charge for three years, and the detention may be renewed indefinitely.

Michael Sheridan does point out that a British citizen, Ian Henderson, commands the security apparatus of Bahrain, and many people here will be surprised that we should tolerate an arrangement which associates us with abuses of human rights in another country.

I had hoped to visit Bahrain as the guest of the Government in November, but the authorities cancelled at the last moment, suggesting that early 1995 would be more convenient. Recently they again put me off, without suggesting an alternative date. It might help to restore confidence in the Bahrain Government's good intentions if they would reinstate their invitation to me, for a January visit.

Yours faithfully, ERIC AVEBURY House of Lords London, SW1

20 December The writer is Chairman of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group.