Questions on Freedom of Expression in Bahrain


For the last two years I have been raising concerns about Formula 1’s decision to go ahead with the Bahrain Grand Prix at a time when there are such profound issues with the country’s human rights record, and when the race has been a focus for discontent. You can read some of my reasons in this article I wrote in the Huffington Post in 2012. I have been in regular correspondence with the Governing body of motor sport, the FIA, over the last year and I held a press briefing for motor sport journalists ahead of this year’s race.

Against the ongoing background of concern about human rights in Bahrain, I was recently surprised to read two articles on the UK Embassy in Bahrain’s website giving a very one sided and – I thought – questionable picture of freedom of expression in Bahrain. Although the articles represented one strand of opinion in Bahrain, I found it particularly surprising that the Embassy had not posted any other perspectives on its website for balance and objectivity.

I therefore tabled two parliamentary questions to the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about the articles and the issues they had raised. Knowing I receive a lot of representations about the situation in Bahrain, I wanted to share the questions I asked – and the responses I received from the Minister – on my website:

Richard Burden: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations (a) he and (b) the UK Embassy in Bahrain has received in response to the publication of articles from Bahraini journalists and commentators on that Embassy’s blog marking World Press Freedom Day. [154683]

Alistair Burt: We have received representations from two non-governmental organisations (NGOs). We explained that the views expressed in the guest blogs for World Press Freedom Day that were published on the British embassy in Bahrain’s webpage do not reflect those of the UK Government. All views expressed are solely those of the authors.

Our most recent human rights report made clear that we have some serious concerns about human rights in Bahrain—including freedom of expression—and our ambassador and Ministers raise these concerns regularly both in private and public.

Richard Burden: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs which Bahraini journalists and commentators were invited by the UK Embassy in Bahrain to write an article for that Embassy’s blog on freedom of expression in Bahrain on World Press Freedom Day; what criteria were used to decide which journalists and commentators were invited to do so; and what efforts were made to ensure balance in the selection of articles to be published.[154684]

Alistair Burt: To mark World Press Freedom Day, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) asked journalists and bloggers to write guest blogs and articles in order to highlight freedom of expression across the world through personal testimonies. We had over 20 contributions from our embassies—including blogs, videos, and articles.

All views expressed in guest blogs for World Press Freedom Day are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Government policy.

The embassy in Bahrain asked a range of journalists and commentators to contribute in order to ensure balance. Not all those invited responded, and the embassy published all of the articles they received. We made it clear that the views expressed on the guest blogs that appeared on the embassy’s pages are not those of the Government.

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Richard Burden

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I was Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Northfield between 1992 and 2019 and a former Shadow Transport Minister. I now chair Healthwatch in Birmingham and Solihull, and the West Midlands Board of Remembering Srebrenica. I also work as a public affairs consultant. I am an effective community advocate and stakeholder alliance builder with a passion for human rights. I am a trustee of the Balfour Project charity and of Citizens Advice Birmingham, and a former Chair of Medical Aid for Palestinians.

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