Poet Laureate! Why Did Bahrain King Lavish Tory MP with £10k?
By Staff | The Independent
A Conservative British MP who declared "God save the King of Bahrain" during a speech received at least £10,000 [some US $12300] worth of ‘hospitality’ and travel from the country's rulers, The Independent reported.
Bob Stewart, who has also spoken in defense of the Bahraini regime in parliament, has been paid to travel to the country on multiple occasions, with thousands of pounds spent on him each time.
In a speech in Bahrain this month he told his audience that the country's government had "done a very good job of changing the way it looks after its citizens."
Praising the autocratic government, he said: "I can say this now, as a British: God Save the King of England, and God Save the King of Bahrain!"
Meanwhile, his colleagues termed the ‘lavish trips’ that are funded by autocracies as ‘seriously damaging Britain’s democracy.’
Stewart was in Bahrain ahead of its elections, which were internationally condemned as a sham. Since 2011 the government has banned a number of opposition parties, including the largest.
It also has tightened restrictions on freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, according to human rights groups such as Amnesty International.
Stewart has previously intervened in parliament to dispute whether Bahrain holds political prisoners after other MPs raised the matter.
Sayed Ahmed Al Wadaei, director of the UK-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy [BIRD] and himself a political exile from the country, told The Independent that he was "devastated" by Stewart's behavior.
“As a Bahraini who was rendered stateless as a revenge tactic because I dared to protest the presence of Bahrain’s dictator who was visiting the UK, I cannot return to my country simply because I took a stand for human rights," he said.
"I'm devastated to see Bob Stewart going to Bahrain at the expense of the subjugated people of a corrupt dictatorship. Our people would not choose to finance an MP legitimizing sham elections when opposition leaders languish behind bars."
The human rights activist added: "We expect Bob to declare the value of this trip in compliance with parliamentary rules.”
"He has previously been the only MP to praise Bahrain’s corrupt judiciary as it prepared to uphold the death sentences of torture victims; from now on he must declare his financial interest whenever he speaks in parliament about Bahrain.”
The MPs' register of interest notes that a trip by Stewart in November 2021 worth £5,349 in flights, accommodation and meals was paid for by Bahrain's ministry of foreign affairs. The ministry also paid for another visit in January 2016 recorded at £4,753.
The Conservative MP also reportedly visited Bahrain in November 2019, but the value of this trip was not declared on his register of interests because parliament was dissolved in the run-up to the election.
His most recent trip, during which he made his speech praising the king of Bahrain, took place in November 2022 but has not yet been declared on the register of interest, which is consistent with its rules on declaration.
Stewart's approach to dealing with the country was criticized by fellow parliamentarians. Lord Scriven, a Liberal Democrat peer who is vice chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group [APPG] on Democracy and Human Rights in the Gulf.
"It's clear that what Bob Stewart should have been shouting is ‘God save death row inmates in Bahrain’ who were tortured by authorities into giving false confessions," he said.
"They are facing imminent execution, pending only the stroke of King Hamad's pen. Stewart is getting paid by the British taxpayer to represent his constituents, so goodness knows why he and other MPs accept lavish trips paid for by such suspect foreign governments, and then speaks the same propaganda these regimes use in the UK Parliament. This is seriously damaging for our democracy."
Zarah Sultana, Labor MP for Coventry South, told The Independent there should be "stronger regulation" of MPs' taking gifts from foreign governments, adding: "This shouldn’t be allowed to happen."
Stewart is not the only MP to be courted by Bahrain's government. In total, the country spent over £20,000 to bring Tory British MPs including him to an event in the kingdom in late November last year. The other MPs were Tobias Ellwood, Bob Seely, and Royston Smith.
The regime in Bahrain has been notoriously clamping down on demonstrations that have been held across the country on a regular basis since the popular uprising began in mid-February 2011.
People demand that the Al Khalifah regime relinquish power and allow a just system representing all Bahrainis to be established.
The regime, however, has gone to great lengths to clamp down on any form of dissent.