Torture survivor calls on UK to end Bahrain support

Torture survivor calls on UK to end Bahrain support
4 min read
10 March, 2016
Isa Haider Alaali is campaigning to restrict arms sales to states which use them to silence dissent or stoke sectarian fears, reports Patrick Atack.
Campaigners want to end arms sales to states where they'll be used for repression [Atack/TheNewArab]
A coalition of groups protesting the ongoing "Security and Policing 2016" event in the British town of Farnborough were joined in central London on Wednesday night by Isa Haider Alaali, a victim of Bahraini government violence.

Alaali joined the protest, held outside the offices of the UK Home Office, to explain his story, and the violence against him at the hands of the Bahraini police and the island's security forces.

He said he was tortured in 2013 and fled his home country in fear for his life.

He has now successfully claimed asylum in the UK, though it took six months in a detention centre and a High Court battle to convince the British government that his claim was legitimate.

"I wasn't surprised when I first arrived here [and faced difficulties]. I knew the British government support Bahrain," Alaali said.

Isa Alaali told The New Arab that he felt the need to speak out because of the support that Britain gives to the Al-Khalifa government of Manama.
If I speak in Bahrain, they'll arrest me, torture me again - maybe kill me

"For me, it's a big thing, because I am not able to speak in Bahrain, but there is free speech [here]. If I speak in Bahrain, they'll arrest me, torture me again - maybe kill me."

His message to the British government was clear; "Stop supporting the dictatorships… in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. In Bahrain, more than 160 people have been killed by the government, thousands of people are still in jail, women and children too.

"And who gives them the power to kill their people? From where does he bring the gun? From Britain."

But this protest did not forget that Bahrain has not been the only recipient of British arms. Saudi Arabia was also a target of protesters' anger.

"The Saudi army entered Bahrain in 2011 to crush the protest. Who supports them? Britain," said Alaali.

Sam Walton, of the Network for Police Monitoring, told The New Arab that his organisation was looking at British complicity in overseas human rights abuses.

"If we export tear gas canisters to Bahrain, to Saudi, we know what they’re going to be used… for internal repression," he said.

"If we export bombs to Saudi Arabia, we know they’re going to be dropped on Yemen."

Many of the campaigners pointed out that not enough people in the UK knew about state repression and violence taking place in the Gulf region.

Jack Bastian, of a group named Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants, said that although "people are aware that conflicts are ongoing and with more talk of Saudi repression… it has become more on the political radar but I still think it is something that is massively underreported and not really known about".
And who gives them the power to kill their people? From where does he bring the gun? From Britain

Kirsten Bayse of Stop The Arms Fair agreed. "People have very busy lives, and it can be hard to follow. And of course, this stuff tends not to be covered on the BBC, Channel4 or ITV."

The importance of having Isa Alaali speak at their event was clear to all the campaigners.

"I think it's incredibly powerful for people to hear the horrific first-hand experiences that people have had," said Bastian. "And working with organisations that have links like Campaign Against the Arms Trade is a good way of getting that message out to people."

It is the hope of both Alaali and the many passionate campaigners present that, by sharing the stories of Bahraini repression, allegedly supported by the British arms trade, they can build public pressure on the British government to act.

The event that sparked the protest, Security and Policing 2016, is described by groups such as Stop the Arms Fair and Campaign Against the Arms Trade as a "shopping spree" for governments and security forces, where oppressive regimes can "buy all the necessary equipment to support violent militarised policing, aggressive border controls and oppressive surveillance operations".

The Home Office decision to host the trade fair in Farnborough, Hampshire, has also drawn fire.

Charlie Tunmore, an independent campaigner, described the location as "very secretive", which made it "hard for protesters and campaigners like us to go… and try and shut it down".

The Home Office described the event as an opportunity to "provide the level of industry engagement needed to enable UK government to procure and deliver its national security priorities".

"National security is the first priority of the government," a Home Office spokesperson told The New Arab. "This exhibition brings UK industry, law enforcement and security professionals together in a secure environment.

"A thriving security industry is vital to help cut crime and protect the public and so it is important these products and services can be showcased and expertise shared."

Follow Patrick Atack on Twitter: @patricvk