UK: Activists receive conditional discharges and fines for London Bahraini embassy rooftop protest

14.12.12 - Two UK-based Bahraini activists last week (7 December) received conditional discharges and £100 fines for a protest that saw them occupy the roof of the Bahraini embassy in London for 24 hours in April this year.

Ali Mashaima and Moosa Mohammed were prosecuted under Section 9 of the Criminal Law Act 1977, which makes trespassing on foreign diplomatic premises a crime with a maximum penalty of six months imprisonment, a fine not exceeding £5,000, or both.

During the trial, held last week at Westminster Magistrate's Court, the judge would not accept the defence's argument that the actions of Mashaima and Mohammed were necessary to raise awareness of the case of two prominent prisoners in Bahrain.

The rooftop protest was intended to raise awareness of the plight of Hassan Mashaima (Ali Mashaim's father), an opposition politician who has cancer and from whom the Bahraini authorities have been accused of withholding treatment, and Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, a human rights activist who at the time of the protest in April had been on hunger strike for 60 days. He was eventually force-fed by the authorities after 110 days without food.

According to Abbas Nawrozzadeh, barrister for the two defendants, Hassan Mashaima is "by most accounts is a serious risk of death due to lack of treatment for cancer."

Despite two preliminary hearings for the case at which the proposal for a defence of necessity was outlined, the judge during last week's trial refused to hear it, saying that there was no defence in law for the protest.

The judge found that a reasonable person would not believe the rooftop protest was proportionate and necessary to achieve the goals of trying to save the lives of Hassan Mashaima and Abdulhadi al-Khawaja by raising awareness about their cases.

He did however appear sympathetic to the case of the two men, accepting that both reasonably believed their actions were necessary and that they acted for this reason alone.

The Bahrain Freedom Movement has reported that "the judge expressed clear sympathy with them especially after the courtroom turned into a trial of the... murderous regime." [1]

Abbas Nawrozzadeh said that as well as accepting the two men believed their actions were necessary and that they acted solely for that reason, the judge "accepted more or less everything else and commented that he was wiser having read the defence expert report on the situation in Bahrain - another way of expressing his sympathy."

Mashaima and Mohammed avoided the more serious punishments available under the Criminal Law Act 1977. Both received conditional discharges and a fine of £100, "towards the cost of the extensive police operations at the scene." [2]

Given that the defence was not allowed to present its argument that the protest was driven by necessity, an appeal may be lodged before the High Court.

Protest and politics

Ali Mashaima and Moosa Mohammed began their rooftop protest on 17 April after breaking away from an ongoing picket outside the Bahraini Embassy in London's Belgravia Square.

Just hours after the two men had climbed onto the roof, Bahrain's foreign ministry issued a statement referring to the two as "terrorists", and asked UK officials:

"To deal with the situation immediately, take necessary and fast action required in such cases, disembark the terrorists from the roof of the building and enforce the working law proceedings against them."

Pressure on the UK authorities also seems to have come from other high-ranking officials working for the Bahraini government.

According to a report in the Daily Mail, John Yates, a former Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner who is now an "international policing advisor" and at the time was advising the Bahraini government on public order policing, made enquiries to Scotland Yard about the protest:

"During a demonstration about human rights abuses outside the Bahrain embassy in London, he [Yates] called Scotland Yard's press bureau from the Middle Esat asking whether any protesters had climbed on to the roof of the building.

"He also asked who was in charge of the policing operation at the embassy. He was told but he did not contact the officer." [2]

The close links between the UK and Bahraini governments were further reinforced in January this year, with Sir Daniel Bethlehem and Sir Jeffery Jowell now advising the Middle Eastern nation's government.

Bethlehem and Jowell, both lawyers, were appointed to assist with "pushing through the recommendations on human rights featuring in the final report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry," according to the state-run Bahrain News Agency. [3]

Critics have argued that their work is intended to protect the regime from the opposition movement that for over a year has been attempting to bring down the government and the ruling al-Khalifa family, led by the king, Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa.

Saeed al Shehabi, from the London-based Bahrain Freedom Movement, said in an interview earlier this week:

"I think one of the most supportive of the regime is the United Kingdom unfortunately. They have sent their security experts to Bahrain, John Yates, Daniel Bethlehem and Sir Jeffery Jowell; they are all in control of the police and security services. They have not really condemned any crime committed by the regime.

"I think that even the United States' position is softer than the British [position], and this is why the crown prince two days ago [9 December] thanked specifically, the British for their unwavering support." [4]

During the first six months of 2012, British ministers approved arms export licences or sales to Bahrain worth over £6,000,000. Exports included assault rifles, small arms ammunition, cryptography equipment, and infrared and thermal imaging equipment. [5]

At a press conference held in London in November by Bahraini activists Eric Avebury, a member of the House of Lords who has long-supported the work of Bahraini opposition movements, remarked that a future democratic Bahraini government may not be friendly towards Britain, considering the support it has provided to the al-Khalifa regime.

"In the long run this [UK support for Bahrain] is not going to be good for us," said Avebury.

[1] 'London Court discharges two Bahraini activists, situation tense', Bahrain Freedom Movement, 7 December 2012
[2] 'London Court discharges two Bahraini activists', Ahlul Bayt News Agency, 8 December 2012
[3] Stephen Wright, 'Met boss faces 'humiliating' legal battle with Yates of Yard after 'email slur' sent to high-ranking figures', Daily Mail, 24 October 2012
[4] 'Top British QCs appointed to help Bahrain push reforms', Bahrain News Agency, 4 January 2012
[5] 'Bahrainis uprising has nothing to do with sectarianism: Analyst', Press TV, 11 December 2012
[6] 'UK Arms Export Licences', Campaign Against Arms Trade


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