Jack Lopresti MP, loyal advocate of arms exports, hosts Westminster party celebrating Bahraini-UK relations – as more human rights abuses emerge in the Middle Eastern state.
Jack Lopresti MP is no stranger to Bahrain, having been on two trips to the country paid for by the repressive Gulf kingdom’s rulers. On Monday he returned the favour by hosting a reception in the House of Commons “celebrating” 200 years of Bahraini-British relations.
As previously revealed by the Cable, private meetings with arms procurers, parliamentary receptions endorsing arms conferences, and trips abroad thanks to missile manufacturers are apparently just part of the job for the local MP.
On this occasion, Lopresti invited MPs to attend the event entitled ‘Celebrating the Bicentenary of Bahraini-UK Relations’ in the House of Commons. It was an event which the MP himself sponsored on behalf of the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Bahrain, Sheikh Fawaz bin Mohammed Al Khalifa.
Human rights campaigners have highlighted that Sheikh Al Khalifa headed the major suppression of opposition politics during the Arab Spring, forcing the closure of Bahrain’s only independent newspaper, which only reopened when senior staff resigned.
As reported by magazine al-bab.com, Bahrain has recently stepped up its crackdown on civil society, media and basic freedoms. Earlier this week the European Parliament passed a resolution condemning the latest wave of repression and a group of 10 rights organisations issued a statement highlighting recent abuses. These included:
- The arrest and prosecution of the prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab;
- The suspension, announced dissolution and the asset-freeze of the country’s biggest opposition party, the Al-Wefaq Islamic Society;
- An increased jail sentence, from four to nine years, for the party’s Secretary-General, Sheikh Ali Salman;
- The imposition of travel bans on journalists and activists, including a delegation of human rights activists set to participate at the 32nd UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva;
- The forced exile of prominent human rights activist Zainab al-Khawaja;
- The suspension of several non-governmental and religious organisations;
- The withdrawal of citizenship from Sheikh Isa Qassim, the spiritual leader of the Bahrain’s Shia majority population.
These don’t seem to trouble Lopresti.
Delighted to welcome Ambassador of Bahrain to Parliament to celebrate 200 years of UK Bahrain relations. pic.twitter.com/TxB1IGrAL1
— Jack Lopresti (@Jackloprestimp) July 11, 2016
The Tory MP has defended his links with Bahrain, claiming that he has forged strong ties which have helped secure a $3.4 billion contract to sell Airbus aircraft, partly-built in his constituency of Filton.
On previous visits to the Kingdom, Lopresti received £7,803 from the Bahrain Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to participate in the IISS Manama Dialogue (a security conference) and the Conservative Middle East Council’s parliamentary fact-finding delegation to Bahrain. The fact that he wasn’t a member of the council itself didn’t seem to matter.
Bahrain aside, Lopresti has acquainted himself with a number of countries in the Middle East with dubious human rights records, drawing criticism in the past. In 2012 he visited Saudi Arabia, registering that he “met with Members of the Shura Council, Government Ministers and various human rights groups”, while in the Saudi Kingdom.
However Oliver Colvile MP had a slightly different recollection of the trip: “we were there to promote defence exports”, he explained. Lopresti subsequently amended his register of interests, to clarify that he actually went as part of the UK Defence Forum (UKDF) delegation – a body of corporate lobbyists, members of the armed forces and politicians – “to gain an understanding of the political and security framework as related to the Saudi Government”.