18 May 2012

Protests over ‘tyrants’ at Queen’s Jubilee lunch

Human rights activists are outraged that the King of Bahrain will lunch with the Queen today at Windsor Castle – after his regime was accused of a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy campaigners.

Protestors say the quest list at today’s special Jubilee lunch features a range of foreign monarchs who have been widely condemned for their human rights records, or their extravagant lifestyles.

Among the guests sitting down with the Queen is the King of Bahrain, where demonstrations calling for more democratic involvement in the country’s government were violently suppressed, with the help of Saudi troops. There was further violence last month during protests over the decision to hold the Formula One Grand Prix in the country; at least fifty people have been killed there since February last year.

Human rights campaigners have orgainsed a protest outside the Bahraini embassy in London, describing the invitation to King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa as “inappropriate, insensitive, and ill-advised.”

The writer and pro-democracy activist, Dr Ala’a Shebabi, told Channel 4 News: “The King of Bahrain has been incriminated in grave violations of human rights. While he basks in the magnaminity of today’s pomp and ceremony, the people of Bahrain are being shot, tear-gassed and tortured by his security forces. The British royal family is staining their own reputation by keeping company of dictators”.

Foreign Office criticised

The former foreign office minister Denis MacShane criticised the Foreign Secretary William Hague for approving the decision to include the Bahraini monarch on the guest list. “The FCO should protect the British Queen rather than expose her to having to dine with a despot”, he said. “For too long we have turned a blind eye to the repression carried out under the rule of royals in Arabia.”

The Foreign Office said the lunch had been organised by the royal household, and “all world sovereigns” had been invited. A spokesman said that Britain’s close relationship with Bahrain allowed a “full and frank” discussion of areas of concern, insisting that the UK wanted to help promote the reforms that were already underway in the Kingdom.

Inviting these blood-soaked dictators brings shame to the monarchy and tarnishes the Diamond Jubilee celebrations. Peter Tatchell

Other guests from controversial regimes are also at the lunch, including Swaziland’s King Mswati, who has 13 wives, and is Africa’s last absolute monarch. He is accused of leading a lavish lifestyle while his people are starving. The rulers of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are there too – human rights group Amnesty International has accused both countries of rights violations.

Palace protest

The human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has called on protestors to gather outside Buckingham palace tonight as guests arrive for dinner with Prince Charles, demanding that invitations to those he described as “royal tyrants” should be withdrawn.

“Inviting these blood-soaked dictators brings shame to the monarchy and tarnishes the Diamond Jubilee celebrations”, he said. “The invitations are a shocking misjudgement. They show the Queen is out of touch with the humanitarian values of most British people. She’s putting royalty before human rights.”

One invited guest certainly won’t be attending: Queen Sofia of Spain. She initially accepted, but this week the Spanish government pressured her to turn it down, in in an escalating diplomatic row over Gibraltar. Spain’s foreign ministry has made a formal complaint to Britain over plans by the Earl and Countess of Wessex to visit the disputed territory next month, as part of the Jubilee celebrations.

Snubs, protests, and human rights allegations: it’s almost enough to make the assembled royals lose their appetite.