David Cameron has been criticised for “rolling out the red carpet” for Bahrain’s crown prince, who is under fire for human rights abuses.
Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa visited Downing Street yesterday, weeks after overseeing a violent crackdown against pro-democracy protesters which left 29 dead.
He was urged by Mr Cameron to seek reform rather than repression, but opposition MP and former Foreign Office minister Denis MacShane attacked the visit.
“We have well-documented reports of torture, including the torture of women doctors,” he said.
“It is just sad that David Cameron has such a tin ear to the cries for freedom from the Arab world and is supping with the torturers not supporting the moves for democracy.”
Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell commented: “It is a shocking misjudgement to fete the crown prince of Bahrain at a time when his regime is arresting, jailing, torturing and killing peaceful democracy protesters.
“This welcome is a slap in the face to the victims of repression. Britain should be siding with Bahrain’s democrats, not with the dictatorship.
Downing Street said Mr Cameron had raised concerns about the situation in Bahrain and stressed the importance of the Bahraini government “moving to a policy of reform rather than repression”.
A spokesperson added: “The prime minister emphasised his support for the crown prince’s long-standing work to achieve political and economic progress in Bahrain, and said that Britain would back efforts to normalise the situation and return Bahrain to a credible long-term process of reform.”
The decision to host the crown prince was particularly embarrassing given the tough stance Barack Obama adopted towards the kingdom in his speech on the Middle East and the Arab Spring yesterday.
The US president called on the governments of both Bahrain and Yemen to work with politicians who have so far only faced brutal reprisals for their pro-democracy demonstrations.
“We have insisted publicly and privately that mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain’s citizens,” Mr Obama said.
“The only way forward is for the government and opposition to engage in a dialogue, and you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail.
“The government must create the conditions for dialogue, and the opposition must participate to forge a just future for all Bahrainis.”
Bahrain’s government responded by welcoming the “principles” of Mr Obama’s speech, Gulf News reported.
A statement issued by the Bahraini cabinet stressed that a national dialogue had been launched alongside a ‘national action charter’ – and that Mr Obama’s arguments “converged with its democratic orientations”.
“We hope that all parties participate in order to reach a national consensus that will be reflected in the existing constitutional institutions,” the statement read.
The visit to No 10 followed the crown prince’s decision to turn down an invitation to last month’s royal wedding because of fears of protests marring the day in London.
Martial law continues in Bahrain, but the government has said it will lift this at the start of next month.