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Motion made, and Question proposed,

Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks): Object.

3 Jun 1997 : Column 298


Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Jon Owen Jones.]

10.1 pm

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Kelvin): I begin by warmly congratulating the Minister of State his appointment. He will know that I predicted high office for him when I served under him as a humble foot soldier on an obscure Bill in Committee, which was considered in a room along the Committee Corridor some years ago. My hon. Friend has not disappointed me. With his progressive record and his deep and genuine commitment to liberty around the world, he will form part of a Labour Foreign Office which I believe will be a beacon of hope for the powerless and the downtrodden in all countries.

The Government have started in such an inspiring way on the domestic as well as the international scene and nothing that I shall say this evening should be taken by my hon. Friend as any kind of criticism. Rather, I want to probe the way in which the Government intend to practise in their policy towards Bahrain what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary so eloquently preached in the Foreign Office mission statement, which has resounded to this country's credit throughout the world.

I am well aware that no country's foreign policy can afford to be entirely selfless, and the first priority of any Government is the well-being of their own citizens, their own economy and their own strategic interests. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary rightly said, however, we all of us are citizens of the world and misery and turmoil in one place inevitably have consequences for the rest of us.

One such area is Bahrain. Since the emir ordered the suspension of the constitution in August 1975 and closed down the Parliament, extreme instability has enveloped the island, with repression, arbitrary arrests, torture, forceable exile and the shooting down of peaceful demonstrators demanding nothing more than the restoration of their Parliament.

In 1994, a petition signed by more than 25,000 people--Sunni and Shi'ite, men and women, people of the left, right and centre--was to be presented to the emir. One might think that that was routine, but the response of the Bahrain Government was far from routine. The leaders of the popular movement were arrested, as were thousands of others. That was followed by more oppression, more deaths under torture and further exile.

Bahrain became the first country in the world to deport its own citizens and demand that other countries refuse to give them asylum. In January 1995, I met three of that unique class of deportees in the Palace of Westminster, where I hosted a press conference for them. The last person to speak to them as they boarded the plane into exile was a British security agent, who was working under Colonel Ian Henderson: a man at the very heart of the darkness in Bahrain.

No sooner had those deportees arrived in this country than the Bahraini Foreign Minister flew to London to demand--successfully to date--that the three be denied political asylum. I know that the Minister is aware that those interested in human rights in this country and the Bahraini people are watching closely to see the outcome of the claims for asylum by Sheikh Ali Salman, Sheikh

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Hamza al-Dairi and Sayed Haidar al-Sitri. My first request is that the Minister draws to the attention of our right hon. Friend the Home Secretary the keen interest that there is in that asylum application and the need for its fair and swift adjudication.

Torture is commonplace in Bahrain--of that there can be no doubt. The Minister's predecessor, the former right hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes, said several times in response to questions from me and other hon. Members that he had raised the issue of the abuse of prisoners with the Bahraini authorities. The United States State Department, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other international human rights organisations have produced veritable mountains of documentary evidence of such abuse and torture.

My hon. Friend the Minister has raised those concerns with the Bahrainis in the past and more recently, but I must ask him an obvious question. If, in the teeth of all that evidence, of international opprobrium and expressions of concern from my hon. Friend and his predecessor, the Bahraini people are still being shot like dogs in the streets by security forces led by British mercenaries and are still being abused on the torture tables in the dungeons of the regime, has not the time come when merely raising concerns is not enough?

Thanks to the new Labour Foreign Office mission statement, we have an opportunity to move beyond mere rhetoric towards practical, internationally co-ordinated measures to bring pressure to bear on persistent and unheeding offenders against basic human rights, of whom Bahrain is undoubtedly one.

It is clear that the Bahraini dictatorship is nervous about the Foreign Secretary's mission statement. That can be measured by the intensification of contacts sought by the Bahrainis. It will not have escaped my hon. Friend's notice that the very first visitor from the Arabian Gulf to arrive on his doorstep was the Bahraini Minister of Transport. Nor will he have missed seeing in the respected Arabic daily Al-Hayat the photograph of the son of the crown prince, grandson of the emir--it is not so much a one-party state, more a family business--with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence at their meeting last week. The report has the Bahraini Minister reviewing the deep relations between this country and Bahrain, and in particular our security and defence co-operation.

I am sure that I would not be the only person to be grateful if the Minister were to elaborate on the precise security and defence arrangements between our two countries. How deep are they, and how are they affected by the arrogant refusal of the Bahraini dictators to listen to their friends in Britain? I am not alone in wanting to know what safeguards have been built into that co-operation to ensure that no equipment, no training and no British personnel are used in any way against the civilian population of Bahrain. After all, even the previous Government, whose mission statement was deafening in its silence about human rights, had very clear safeguards on the sale of Hawk trainer aircraft to the Indonesian Government.

I am not asking for the cancellation of British-Bahraini defence co-operation; nor, for that matter, are the leaders of the Bahrain opposition in London, one of whose

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distinguishing characteristics is their moderation. However, despite their moderate and peaceful character, it has been brought to my attention and, I suspect, to the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister that the movements of the London-based opposition are now being monitored by agents of the regime. I therefore ask my hon. Friend to take this opportunity to assure the House of the Government's commitment to the well-being of those opposition leaders while they are here in exile.

The Bahraini opposition are not asking for a change of government in Bahrain; they are not asking for the overthrow of the emir; they are not asking to form a Government in Bahrain; they are not even asking for full Westminster-style parliamentary democracy. All that they are asking is for the emir to restore the Bahraini constitution that he suspended in 1975.

My next request to my hon. Friend the Minister is that he place clearly on record this evening that it is the wish of Her Majesty's Government--Her Majesty's Labour Government--that the suspended constitution be reinstated in Bahrain. I believe that, as an interim measure, we should impress on the regime the urgent need to begin dialogue with the opposition. The political leaders must be released, in particular Sheikh Al-Jumri, without whom no such dialogue could possibly be achieved. I believe that my hon. Friend should cause our ambassador in Bahrain himself to meet the opposition, both as a sign of our support for human rights and constitutional government and to send a clear message to the Bahraini Government that we mean business when we raise our concerns with them.

There is ample precedent. In dictatorships all over the world, past and present, our officials maintain regular contact and dialogue--if only for information purposes--with those who are struggling for basic human rights in their own countries. What reason would there be for not doing the same in Bahrain?

Yesterday, while preparing for the debate, I had the doubtful--because distressing--privilege of a visit from one of the victims of the repression to my office in Westminster. I shall call him Mohammed. He is 19 years old, and in another time or another place he would have been a normal young student. In my office, he took off his shirt to display a body hideously pock-marked by gunshot. All over his back and down his left arm, pieces of shrapnel nestled under his agonised skin. What was his crime? To be in a demonstration by school students who were protesting at the emir's refusal to receive the petition that I mentioned earlier.

Mohammed, however, is merely one in thousands. More than 5,000 people on that tiny island have been detained just in the past three years, and at least 1,500 such detainees remain in gaol without trial, undergoing or fearing torture. Many are held under the infamous state security law, which empowers the Minister of the Interior to order the detention of political suspects for up to three years without charge.

Such trials as have been held are frequently taken by the state security court, often in camera. In those trials, evidence usually rests solely on confessions extracted from defendants under torture. No appeal is allowed against its rulings, and, more important, death sentences passed by the court are subject to no appeal.

The Bahraini Government promised the last British Government that they would cease to use the state security court for such trials. They have broken that promise,

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and continue to use the SSC to date. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister agrees that Bahrain's state security court is an affront to all international norms of justice, and should be suspended immediately.

According to a report in The Guardian on 13 May, a detainee was tortured in Bahrain in a dungeon fitted with British-supplied torture equipment. Have the Government had time to investigate that allegation, and if not, will my hon. Friend undertake to do so? If it transpires that that torture equipment originated in this country will the Minister refer the matter to the Attorney-General with a view to prosecuting the British companies that are involved?

The Bahraini Government refuse all requests by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for permission to visit Bahrain and investigate reports of the ill-treatment of detainees. I am sure that the Minister will join me in demanding that reputable and respected human rights organisations should be allowed access to Bahrain.

I said that I would return to the person who is at the heart of the darkness of the Bahraini regime. I am sad to say that he is a British citizen and sadder still to say that he is a Scotsman, Colonel Ian Henderson. Henderson might have walked from the fevered pages of a Graham Greene novel. He was an interrogator of the Mau Mau during colonial rule in Kenya in the bitter struggle for independence. So brutally efficient were his methods that, on obtaining independence for Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta tried to re-engage him in his own security apparatus. So notorious was Henderson that a demonstration was mounted by his victims and the whole affair became so scandalous that Kenyatta was forced to deport him. Via Ian Smith's Rhodesia, he ended up as the right hand man of the Al-Khalifa.

In the Gulf, Henderson is known as the butcher of Bahrain. He is the head of the security services and director of intelligence and has gathered around him the kind of British dogs of war, mercenaries, whose guns and electric shock equipment are for hire to anyone who will pay the price.

It has been commonplace for previous Ministers to brush off criticism of Henderson with the claim that they have no responsibility for his actions, but I do not think that that is entirely true. After all, the House rightly made it possible to pursue, try and punish the British sex tourists who pollute the Philippines and Thailand with their paedophile proclivities. How much more have we responsibility similarly to pursue people who torture and murder for money and who carry Her Majesty's passports?

The House rightly made it possible to try people in this country for war crimes that had been committed in Ukraine or Belorussia more than 50 years ago. I have legal advice which says that the United Nations convention against torture places an obligation on Britain to arrest or attempt to extradite Henderson. Lord Avebury said in another place that, should Henderson return here, having eaten his fill at the trough of the dictatorship, he will face a battery of civil actions for damages from victims of his crimes.

That is not enough. Ian Henderson is Britain's Klaus Barbie. The European Parliament has called Britain to prosecute Henderson and there is another fundamental point that cannot be gainsaid about Henderson's provenance. Britain's relations with the island of Bahrain

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have been warm, close and special for 150 years. Ian Henderson was appointed as deputy director of security on the island in 1966, which was five years before the British left and the territory became independent. Therefore, he was appointed by a British Government, I regret to say by a British Labour Government, to his position in the secret state apparatus of Bahrain.

Of course, the Minister would be right to say that Ian Henderson is not an employee of ours and has nothing to do with us. That is true up to a point, but the Minister must know that that is not how it looks to the man on the torture table looking up at Henderson. It is not how it looks to the demonstrators who are falling in the streets in a hail of gunfire that is directed by him, and it is not how it looks to the wailing families as they bury their dead, people who have been killed by Henderson's forces for the crime of demanding democratic reform.

We as a people have a clear duty to repudiate the conduct of one of our citizens in the service of a foreign power who stands condemned of crimes against humanity. I hope that I have done enough in the debate to make the case that, while of course we must continue to do business with Bahrain and engage constructively in the process of offering its people help and assistance to build out of that autocracy, it cannot be business on the same basis as before. The Bahraini Government must know that Britain now has a Minister and a Government who mean what they say and say what they mean, a Government who really believe in human rights and democracy.

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