Bahrain prince to skip UK royal wedding

Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa declines British royal wedding invite amid criticism by activists following crackdown.

    British royals with Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa aboard a UK naval vessel off the Bahrain coast in 2007 [EPA]

    The crown prince of Bahrain has declined an invitation to attend Britain's royal wedding because of ongoing unrest in the Gulf Arab kingdom.

    Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa's decision on Sunday comes amid criticism of the invite by activists angered at the kingdom's violent crackdown on opposition protesters.

    The prince said he had delayed sending his regrets, hoping for the situation in Bahrain to improve before Prince William and Kate Middleton marry on April 29, his office said in a statement.

    He said the British media had "misrepresented" his stance and "clearly sought to involve my potential attendance as a political proxy for wider matters involving Bahrain".

    Media reports had speculated that the prince would withdraw to avoid embarrassment after the bloody crackdown on mainly Shia Muslim protesters in Bahrain left at least 24 people dead.

    The prince was one of more than 40 foreign royals invited to attend the British royals' wedding in Westminster Abbey on Friday.

    The annoucement came as Bahrain's state media reported that a military prosecutor has called for seven anti-government protesters to be given the death penalty.

    The demonstrators are accused of killing two police officers during pro-democracy protests.

    The defendants' lawyer has denied the charges, with the next hearing set for Thursday.

     'Tough stance'

    Activists, some of whom petitioned William Hague, the UK foreign minister, to revoke the prince's invitation, had been quick to condemn the decision to invite al-Khalifa to the ceremony.

    Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, an opposition group which has been central to the protests, told Al Jazeera that people in Bahrain were expecting the British to take a "tough stance," rather than invite those accused of grievous human-rights abuses to the major celebrations.

    Al Jazeera's report on the controversial monarchs on the UK royal guest list

    "Calling our crown prince at a time when people are being killed … for demanding their political rights and peacefully protesting, is extremely disappointing," he said in a phone interview.

    "They're losing the hearts and minds of the people in this region."

    Like similar protests movements across the Middle East and North Africa, Bahraini demonstrators have been demanding democracy, human rights and freedom of speech since mid-February.

    Al-Khalifa's government has responded to the calls for constitutional monarchy by deploying massive numbers of troops.

    Hundreds of doctors, nurses, teachers, unionists have been beaten, sacked or forcibly disappeared in recent days, Rajab said.

    "Unfortunately I'm banned from travelling otherwise I'd be travelling there [to London] to protest outside the wedding," Rajab said.

    'Dramatic deterioration'

    In Bahrain, where a Sunni minority monopolises political power, the government has cast the popular revolt in a sectarian light, arguing that the Shia-led opposition movement is being supported by Iran and Hezbollah. 

    Saudi Arabia and the UAE have sent security forces to Bahrain to help crush the uprising.

    Royal invitees from elsewhere in the Arab world include heads of state from Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Kuwait.

    Reacting to Al-Khalifa's inclusion on the guest list, a spokesperson for Amnesty International, the London-based human-rights watchdog, told Al Jazeera that there has been a "dramatic deterioration" in human-rights conditions in Bahrain over the past month.

    "We would expect any government hosting senior representatives of the Bahraini government to use this opportunity to press strongly and publicly for the government to halt its crackdown on freedom of expression, which has included the arrest of at least 500 people, whose whereabouts are in most cases unknown," the spokesperson said.

    'Murderer of his people'

    Amnesty International has called on North American and European governments to be as vocal about human rights in their small Gulf ally as they have been in support of opposition uprisings in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt.

    Y-Shaheen El Heloo, an opposition activist who contacted Al Jazeera via email, said: "Do you accept that the murderer of his people Prince Salman Bin Hamad Al-Khalifa heaping among the guests at a royal wedding on the land of Britain?"

    Opposition activists on Twitter were also vocal concerning the British invite.

    "I call on people of conscious all over the world to condemn the invitation of #Bahrain's prince to #RoyalWedding," @MariaSelba wrote.

    @tunis_demor, meanwhile, asked: "Can concerned Britons get #Bahrain Crown Prince arrested at the #royalwedding using universal jurisdiction law?"

    Physicians for Human Rights, a US-based nongovernmental organisation, issued a report on Friday condemning Bahraini security forces of "systematic attacks" on medical staff.

    Al-Wefaq, the leading Shia opposition party, accused the authorities of razing some 30 Shia holy sites since it imposed martial law last month, many of them historic buildings.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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