Sunday, May 27, 2012

Kafka in the Gulf 4

Orders in Council

But other things had happened before then. On December 18, the day on which the Ruler's grossly improper appeal for the transportation of men who had not even been tried, let alone convicted, was made, the Governor of St. Helena (5,000 miles away as the crow flies) submitted an address to Her Majesty which read as follows: Whereas the Ruler of Bahrain has expressed his desire that arrangements should be entered into between Bahrain and St. Helena for removal of certain prisoners from Bahrain to St. Helena; and Whereas it is proposed to make provision for the extension of the Colonial Prisoners Removal Act, 1869, to Bahrain; now therefore I, the Governor of St. Helena, do hereby respectfully submit to Her Majesty this my humble Address praying that sanction be given by Order of Her Majesty in Council that the desired arrangements may be entered into...

So we now have, four days before any court existed for the trial of the prisoners, an appeal from the Ruler of Bahrain to Her Majesty describing them as convicted men and asking for them to be taken to St. Helena, and a submission on the same day by the Governor of St. Helena which entered fully into the spirit of the proceedings in its assumption that men who had not yet been tried would be convicted, and went further in its statement that 'it is proposed to make provision for the extension of the Colonial Prisoners Removal Act, 1869, to Bahrain'; no such proposal having been made at that time by anybody.

Worse, however, was to follow. The Ruler of Bahrain is obviously not concerned with justice, and the Governor of St. Helena is a long way away. But Her Majesty, or at any rate her Colonial Secretary, ought to know better. And on December 19, still three days before the court was set up in Bahrain, and four before the trial, two Orders in Council were made. The first said that the Colonial Prisoners Removal Act was extended to Bahrain. The second declared that 'The sanction of Her Majesty is hereby given to order that the Ruler of Bahrain and the Governor of St. Helena may... enter into an agreement for the removal of prisoners... from Bahrain to the Colony of St. Helena...'

And this Order in Council was published in the Extraordinary Issue of the St. Helena Government Gazette which appended to it the announcement quoted in the first paragraph of this article. But it was not published in Bahrain until September 28 (when it was posted on the official noticeboard at the British Political Agency). Therefore the Colonial Prisoners Removal Act did not come into force in Bahrain until that date, for the relevant section of that Act says that it shall be in force 'as soon as such Order in Council has been published in the colony to which it relates'.

On December 26, three days after the 'trial', but two days before the Colonial Prisoners Removal Act came into force in Bahrain (with publication there of the Order in Council), Sir Charles Belgrave handed to the Political Resident a warrant for the removal to St. Helena of the three prisoners sentenced to 14 years imprisonment, and on December 28, under this clearly ineffective warrant, the three men were taken on board HMS Loch Insh and given into the custody of her captain.  And off they sailed to St. Helena. (Normally such prisoners are sent to the Seychelles, but - by a fine irony - they were at the time full of Archbishop Makarios and his colleagues.) When they arrived, they were handed over to the Governor, and by him to the Superintendant of Prisons, who is also the Chief of Police, and several other things as well. They were imprisoned, as the notorious announcement, made five days before they were tried, had said they would be, at Munden's. This is a small collection of Nissen huts high up on a cliff, surrounded by barbed wire.

The conditions under which they are imprisoned are curiously unrigorous for desperadoes of the kind they would be if the charges against them had been true. Those who have seen them compare their conditions to those of an officer prisoner-of-war under parole, and the situation lends support to the belief that nobody in this case, from beginning to end, really thinks that they were guilty. They spend much of their time gardening (they have made a fine flower-garden), praying and reading the Koran. For a time, they were allowed out for drives round the island, in a jeep provided by the Ruler of Bahrain to enable the St. Helena Superintendent of Prisons to visit their somewhat inaccessible quarters. But a dispute presently arose as to whether they or their captors should choose the day's route, and the upshot is that they have refused to go at all.

To be continued...

[PS: I know something's been bothering readers who've come this far in the series, so I'll spell it out. Nobody, back in the fifties and sixties, seemed to know or care, not even the Ruler of Bahrain himself, whether the prisoners were Sunni or Shia! These days, however, you can't get through a report on the subject of the People of Bahrain vs the current Ruler of the island without tripping over the two 'S' words. It's amazing what you can do with two such words - like disguise a struggle for basic  democratic rights as an age-old sectarian conflict lost in the mists of time. Now who would do such a thing, and why?]

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