The King of Bahrain was invited to attend the Royal Windsor Horse Show on Sunday after receiving a personal invitation from the Queen.
The invitation has prompted anger from campaign groups who claim the UK is “sportswashing” what they deem to be an increasingly repressive regime.
King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa has been invited as a guest of the Queen for several years, suggesting a positive relationship between the two monarchies despite the human rights violations taking place in the Middle East.
King Hamad offered congratulations to Vladimir Putin on Russia’s Victory Day, which was held last week.
However, his attendance at the show has not been confirmed. It was suspected that he may have returned to the Gulf early after the death of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, president of the UAE, on Friday.
The Queen has attended the horse show, the UK’s largest event of this type, to watch the Platinum Jubilee celebrations in her honour. She is expected to face protesters, organised by the Campaign Against Arms Trade, who aim to highlight the event’s “sportswashing of human rights abuses in Bahrain”.
Among those attending the protest is exiled activist Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, whose Bahraini citizenship was revoked after he previously protested against the King of Bahrain at the horse show. Alwadaei is effectively stateless as a result.
Felix Jakens, Amnesty International UK’s Head of Campaigns told i: “This is a typical public relations opportunity for the Bahraini regime to cover up its chilling human rights record.
“Bahrain is a deeply repressive state where anyone critical of the government can be jailed merely for posting a tweet and prominent human-rights defenders are under relentless attack in the country.”
Alwadaei, director of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, told The Guardian: “While the people of Bahrain continue to live under the brutal repression of the Al Khalifa dictatorship, with prisons full of peaceful dissidents, once again the red carpet is being rolled out for King Hamad in the UK. His invitation to the Royal Windsor Horse Show is morally bankrupt and sends a clear signal that the UK is a safe haven for dictators and human rights abusers.”
On Friday an open letter was sent to the Queen by five MPs, including former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and two peers, to warn that inviting the king to the horse show was “a huge error of judgement and sends a devastating message to the victims of this brutal rule”.
Green Party peer, Natalie Bennet who also signed the letter said: “Pleased to sign this letter, sorry that I had to. Integrated Review said UK is ‘committed to protecting human rights and upholding global norms’. Sportswashing the Bahrain regime won’t do that.”
A separate letter, signed by international rights groups, was sent to sponsors of the horse show, including Land Rover and Hermes Paris, describing the invitation as a “textbook example of sportswashing”.
Jeed Basyouni, leader of Reprieve’s Middle East team, said: “The UK welcomes King Hamad and agrees not to mention the people tortured into making false confessions by his security services.
“And, each year, Bahrain’s rulers return home with the comforting thought that no matter how much pain they inflict on their people, they will still be feted in England.”
The invitation to welcome the king comes after the event organisers agreed to adopt a human rights policy following a complaint that the show is being exploited by the Bahrain royal family to distract from rights abuses.
Bahrain’s Prince Nasser has also confirmed he will be attending.
In 2014 the High Court in London ruled that Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa is not immune from prosecution over torture claims, allegations the Bahraini government categorically denied.
Since the failed 2011 uprising, aimed at removing the ruling monarchy, Bahrain has been engaged in the repression of its Shia majority. Human rights groups claim the regime is using mass terrorism trials and the removal of citizenship to crack down on peaceful activists.
Amnesty International’s latest assessment of Bahrain says that its government continued to commit serious human rights violations, “including torture and other ill-treatment as well as suppression of freedom of expression and assembly. Official investigations of ill-treatment resulted in impunity for perpetrators.”