The following story appears in the print edition of today’s Telegraph:
BRITAIN’S former military commander in Iraq has extravagantly praised a dictatorial Arab regime after it paid his company £1.5million to “support [its] stance before the international community”.
Lt Gen Sir Graeme Lamb, a former director of Special Forces and commander of the Field Army, last month described the Gulf state of Bahrain as a “little gem… the leading point of change, reforms and progress since the 1920s” and attacked the Western media for “unfairly” lumping it in with Tunisia, Libya and Syria.
“There it is just systematic, state-sponsored abuse of its own people,” he told Bahrain’s Gulf Daily News. “And nothing can be further from the truth here.”
At least 50 civilians have been killed, according to Amnesty International, after Bahraini and Saudi forces put down non-violent demonstrations last spring calling for political reform, democracy and an end to Sunni domination over the country’s Shia majority.
In proportion to Bahrain’s tiny population, the death toll is higher than in Tunisia or Egypt. Five members of the security forces have also died.
At least 30 places of worship have been destroyed by the regime and medical staff at the main hospital were jailed for up to 15 years in military courts for treating protesters, though retrials in civilian courts have been ordered following an international outcry.
Gen Lamb has recently complained in the British media that Bahrain has been “hounded“. He called for a more “balanced viewpoint” and said “majority rule was tried in the early years of independence and failed”.
He partly blamed the uprising on “Iranian malevolent influence” and said the West should listen to the country’s “silent majority”.
Tender documents on the Bahraini government website show that last July, the regime’s media council paid £1.5million to a British company described as “3G (UK)” for “a media campaign to support the Kingdom of Bahrain’s stance before the international community”.
The only British lobbying company called 3G said it worked exclusively for UK clients and had received no payment from Bahrain.
Gen Lamb confirmed that the company referred to was in fact the Good Governance Group, also known as G3, for which he is a “special adviser”.
“I now know that is the case [that G3 was paid by Bahrain],” he said.
“A number of people are trying to add two and two together to make four, or six. You’ll say whatever you are going to say, but [my support for Bahrain] is not part of that contract. It is something that I have believed for a long time and it is nothing to do with any business interests I have.”
Last year G3, which employs former service chiefs, officials and diplomats, was drawn into Liam Fox’s resignation as defence secretary after it emerged that it had paid international travel costs for Dr Fox’s close friend, Adam Werrity.
A spokesman for G3 refused to comment.
Gen Lamb is also a director of Aegis Defence, which has one of its four overseas offices in Bahrain.
Since the killings, the tender documents show, the Bahraini government appears to have mounted an intense but subterranean public relations offensive to rehabilitate its image.
Since last March it has signed contracts worth more than £15million with at least six other British-based PR, media or marketing firms, including YouGovStone, Hill &Knowlton, Bell Pottinger, M &C Saatchi, Mark Stewart Productions Ltd, and Mediaedge.
The operation appears to have been increasingly successful. Next month the country will host a Formula One Grand Prix.
The Government’s condemnation of Bahrain has been far more muted than of Syria or Libya and Britain has continued to sell arms to the regime.
In December David Cameron hosted King Hamad al-Khalifa at Downing Street. The US Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain and the West regards the country as an essential base for any attack on nearby Iran.
The son of a prominent Bahraini dissident told The Sunday Telegraph that a British Foreign Office official tried to stop his father, who had taken refuge in London, from returning to Bahrain to join the uprising.
Ali Mushaima said the official rang his father, Hasan, secretarygeneral of the democratic Haq Movement, as they were driving to the airport. “They were literally pleading with my father not to go back,” said Mr Mushaima, who heard the call.
“They said he should wait until the regime began dialogue. I am sure the Foreign Office made a deal with the Bahraini government to try and stop him.” Hasan Mushaima carried on to the flight and was greeted by large crowds when he arrived in Bahrain.
After the crackdown, however, he was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment for “attempting to overthrow the monarchy”.
His family say he has been tortured and denied medical care for his cancer.
Gen Lamb and the regime claim that Bahrain is reforming. An independent inquiry was held to investigate the bloodshed and recommend improvements.
Efforts at “dialogue” have begun, though many opposition figures have boycotted them. Last month, however, Amnesty International said the regime had “not delivered” on its promised reforms and few political prisoners had been freed. Arrests, torture and the use of force against protesters continue.
Mr Mushaima said: “The people of Bahrain are waiting for action from you, the West. It is shameful the British Government believes in human rights for Libyans and Syrians, but not for people in Bahrain. And as for those people who take money from the dictatorship, shame on them.”