Come on shine a light on me!

This morning I received an email from the Foreign Office letting me know of some of the positive initiatives that they had undertaken to mark World Press Freedom Day. The sun was shining and a warm glow came over me as I read about the 'Shine a Light' digital campaign.

They explained how 'Shine a light' aims to highlight repression of the media across the world through personal testimonies. Journalists and activists from around the world will tell their stories of harassment and other restrictions on press freedom. I thought of the old Simple Minds song with the line “come on shine the light on me” – it was a grand day!

Imagine my horror when a few hours later I saw a piece on the British Embassy in Bahrain’s web site to mark WPFD which referred to:

“So-called human rights organisations, which unfortunately are largely administered by ex-ideologists and even terrorists, today propagate their own version of the word ‘freedom’, solely to take it away from others”.

This pretty crazy piece was deeply inflammatory, especially in the context of a country like Bahrain where people are detained for peacefully exercising their freedom of expression - people like Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, or blogger Hassen Jaber

My first thoughts was that the FCO must have been hacked! I immediatley called to let them know about this infringement – to alert them to take it down. They were investigating this came the reply, explaining that they were contacting the Embassy to see how it had got on the site.

Meanwhile the issue was beginning to trend on Twitter and a response from the Embassy in Bahrain very helpfully explained that the “views expressed in guest blogs for #WPFD are solely those of the author do not necessarily reflect UK Government policy”. The Foreign Office's own Twitter account went one further and, as the IBT noted, made a full u-turn

But the views expressed on the @ukinbahrain #WPFD guest blog today are definitely not those of the UK Government.

— Foreign Office (FCO) (@foreignoffice) May 3, 2013

Well knock me down with a feather! The UK has been under a lot of scrutiny over its relationship with Bahrain, a country that imprisons and tortures its opponents, and that has just cancelled the visit by the UN Expert on Torture. There was even a Foreign Affairs Committee Inquiry into the UK’s relationship with Bahrain. To make such an error of judgement in posting this piece is quite astonishing! 

So what can the UK do now? Well if they really want to ‘Shine a light’ they could start by shining it on Bahrain’s human rights record. They could try and redeem themselves by working with other EU countries to table a Resolution on Bahrain at the next Session of the UN Human Rights Council.  What better way to reinforce their u-turning tweet.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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