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Bahrain echo chamber
House of Lords, Issue 1494

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WELL READ: Lord Hussain, who like other peers seems to have learnt by heart the contents of a briefing from the Bahraini embassy
“I HAVE never visited Bahrain,” Lib Dem peer Baron Hussain said in a Lords debate last month on human rights in the Gulf kingdom, “but I believe it is a modern, moderate Arab country.” Why does he believe that? Because, it turns out, the Bahraini government told him so.

“Bahrain is a modern, moderate Arab country,” says a private briefing paper, obtained by the Eye, which was prepared by the Bahraini embassy in London and given to some peers before the debate.

Hussain has other beliefs. “I believe,” he said, “that Bahrain was ranked in tier 1 by the US State Department in 2018 for its efforts to counter human trafficking.” This too was suggested by the embassy: “Ranked in Tier 1 by the US State Department (2018) for its efforts to counter human trafficking.” Nowhere did Hussain mention the Bahraini guidance, although much of his speech followed it almost word-for-word.

Copy-and-paste job
Many speakers condemned the regime’s human rights abuses and the jailing of its critics, but Hussain wasn’t its only defender: hence a growing sense of déjà entendu as the speeches continued. Lord Astor of Hever: “The capital, Manama, is a religiously diverse city, housing Sunni, Shia, Christian, Jewish and Hindu places of worship.” Lord Hussain: “The capital, Manama, is one of the most religiously diverse cities in the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council], with places of worship of Sunni, Shia, Christian, Jewish, Sikh and Hindu faith.” Or, as the embassy PR had advised them to say: “Capital, Manama, is the most religiously diverse city in the GCC, housing Sunni, Shia, Christian, Jewish, and Hindu places of worship.” You get the picture…

The Bahraini embassy’s Twitter account posted a few video snippets the day after the debate, billing them as the “highlights”. They included Baroness Morris of Bolton praising the kingdom’s so-called National Institution for Human Rights as “an independent body with a wide-ranging mandate to protect human rights” – another copy-and-paste job from the embassy’s own advice to speakers.

The video-clips did include one acknowledgement that Bahrain isn’t perfect. “Of course there is always more that can be done,” Lord Astor of Hever had told the House, “and I think that the Bahraini government recognise this.” Or, as the embassy’s notes for speakers had suggested: “While recognising that there is always more that can be done…” Astor’s addition of “I think” is a brilliant touch, given that he was reciting words given to him by the Bahraini government.

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Private Eye Issue 1493