Ian Lindsay, UK Ambassador to Bahrain, has attacked Human Rights Watch over their recent report “No progress on reforms”, in an interview with pro-Government newspaper Gulf Daily News. After seeking clarification with the UK Foreign Office, they confirmed that they do support their Ambassadors remarks.The paper published parts of the interview in 6 sections, covering Iranian involvement, violence and Human Rights Watch, as well as other issues. During the interview Ian Lindsay described the report of Human Rights Watch as “deeply unhelpful, condescending and patronising”, adding that “we would disagree with their conclusion that there had been no progress on reform.”
He was particularly unhappy about comments made by Sarah Leah Whitson, the Director of Human Rights Watch Middle East and North Africa Programme, who blogged for CNN arguing that the dialogue could not deliver without accountability for high ranking officials and releasing of political prisoners. In response Ian Lindsay said, “I find their comments about the political dialogue deeply unhelpful. I think it has taken a lot of courage and a lot of effort to get people for the first time in two years to sit around a table to talk about dialogue.”
Sarah Leah Whitson then took to Twitter to express her opposition to the Ambassadors interview and slamming of her organisation:
The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office defended the remarks of their Ambassador in Bahrain saying, “HRW does valuable work throughout the world protecting and promoting human rights, but we disagree with their position on National Dialogue in Bahrain. National Dialogue is a crucial part of the reform process and it is vital all sides come together to air grievances and agree a better future for all Bahrainis.”
They also defended his disagreement that no reforms had been made in Bahrain, although arguing that they continue to push for more reforms. “Some progress has been made in Bahrain, but we have been clear that more needs to be done, particularly on protection of human rights. We continue to make this clear at the most senior levels.”
The Ambassador also echoed statements from the regime about Iranian involvement in Bahrain. Gulf Daily News said, “Iain Lindsay also said there was “increasing evidence” that Iran was “providing support to people here who are bent on violence”.”
In November 2011 the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry ruled that they had no evidence of Iranian involvement in Bahrain, something regularly objected by the opposition. However the Foreign Office supported the comments of Mr. Lindsay saying, “(The) UK Government is concerned that Iran and other foreign actors have moved from exploiting the political and propaganda opportunities offered by continuing unrest in Bahrain to offering more direct support to some radical Bahraini Shia opposition elements which are pursuing increasingly violent tactics. Any Iranian interference, including attempts to exploit sectarian difference, would be unacceptable.”
Ian Lindsay also called on “political, religious and community leaders” to condemn violence, despite the non-violence declaration that had been signed by various opposition societies late last year.
Some, including former Guardian journalist and blogger Brian Whitaker, had wondered if the comments from the Ambassador had been misrepresented but the endorsement from the Foreign Office suggests they were indeed genuine. It has left many in Bahrain questioning the role of the UK with regards to the ongoing democracy movement and created a sense of anger that the UK’s Ambassador would echo the Governments main line of attack against the opposition. They have regularly called on opposition figures to denounce terrorism, despite it already happening, played up talk of reforms and of course regularly blame Iran for instigating protests in Bahrain.
Ian Lindsay became the UK’s Ambassador to Bahrain in 2011, replacing Jamie Bowden who had been heavily criticised by Government loyalists for expressing concern at the treatment of protesters during the early days of the crackdown.