Protest Planned Ahead Of Windsor Horse Show Visit By Bahrain Royals

Protest Planned Ahead Of Windsor Horse Show Visit By Bahrain Royals

Families of Bahrain's political prisoners have claimed Britain is ignoring the brutal oppression in that country and actively opposing democracy efforts as the Queen prepares to welcome the Gulf state's Royals.

Amid a storm of negative publicity around the appearance of the Bahrain royals at the Royal Windsor Horse Show, Prince Andrew today ducked out of a key-note speech at a UK-Bahrain promotional event on Friday, claiming he was double-booked. But the Queen's son has previously made no secret of his approval of the country.

This coming week, days after the Royals depart, Bahrain Watch says Britain is set to fast-track the deportation of 19-year-old Isa Haider al-Aali, a Bahraini put on trial three times on politically-motivated charges for his protests against the government. Al-Aali, who applied for political asylum in Britain, faces five years in prison when he returns.

"The conflict is on British soil now," said Ala'a Shahabi, the London-based co-founder of Bahrain Watch, whose husband was arrested and jailed for his pro-democracy activism.

Crown Prince of Bahrain, Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad al-Khalifa, has an immunity order that is subject to legal challenge

"And the British want him out the door, back on a plane to Bahrain as soon as possible. He is the third person for this to happen to. The UK does not want activists seeking asylum here, because the Bahraini government has complained to them that London is now a hub for opposition activists, there are 200 of us here."

Those opposition activists have several demonstrations planned against the UK visit of Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, the King of Bahrain, who is set to attend the Royal Windsor Horse Show Friday afternoon.

He travels with his son, Prince Nasser bin Hamad, who captains the Bahraini team at Windsor. The prince was granted immunity from prosecution over allegations that he tortured protesters during the Arab Spring, claims the government denies.

The Bahraini embassy in London called the claims "unfounded, false and politically motivated", according to the Times.

The immunity is subject to legal challenge, by a Bahraini refugee, named only as FF, and likely to be heard in October.

A number of races are to be held this weekend to honour years of bi-lateral ties between the nations. Bahrain is ranked 144th in the world's Democracy Index, compiled by the Economist, and considered an authoritarian regime.

The country is still engulfed in the bitter turmoil that first made front pages in 2011, and then faded from view.

Maryam Alkhawaja, one of the leaders of the pro-democracy movement now in exile, with her father, sister and uncle all imprisoned by the regime, said "non-violent" protests have never stopped, with 50 to 500 people a day coming out against the government.

The Bahrain government claims it is tackling terrorism, and Alkhawaja admits there are "now minority groups starting to use molotov cocktails and stones".

"We are reaching the boiling point again. Wait a little longer, we will reach a point of no return," she said. "I'm not saying it could be another Syria, the people do not have the same access to arms.

"But the violence now could get as bad as the protests in the 1990s. And back then, when the government stopped the repression, violence on the streets stopped. That could happen now. But now the Bahraini government really actually want the violence to happen, to silence those who believe in non-violent protest."

William Hague, Alkhawaja said, has never sat down with the pro-democracy movement, because of the UK's "personal relationships with politicians and between the Royal Families".

"In the US, I've met at the Department of Defence, the Pentagon, the Assistant Secretary of State, and staff in the White House. Not here.

"When I went to meet with the FCO civil servants, it felt like they did so much better a job defending and praising the Bahraini government, it was even better than the Bahraini government themselves and their professional PR company."

"There is a clear determined policy to expand trade and influence in the Gulf, and the only way that can happen is through relations with the Royal Families," Shahabi added. "Human rights and democratic change doesn't feature in that. Britain is an obstacle to genuine reform."

Lawyers are urgently working on a last minute reprieve for al-Aali, via a potential judicial review, which could be rejected next week.

"What is the most mind-boggling is that it is so easy to deport someone or to sentence a human rights defender to life imprisonment, but it is so difficult to find accountability for a prince," Alkhawaja said.


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