The Home Secretary has apologised and offered compensation to a Bahraini human rights activist who was unlawfully detained at Gatwick Airport last year.
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei was stopped by the UK Border Force on September 29 upon his return from addressing the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.
The director of the London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy said the experience of being detained at Gatwick for two-and-a-half hours was “terrifying”.
The Home Office has admitted that the detention was unlawful and offered at least £1,000 in compensation to Mr Alwadaei.
Mr Alwadaei said the timing of the detention was “problematic” as it came less than three months after Bahrain pledged to invest £1 billion in the UK and the Government removed the Persian Gulf kingdom from its list of human rights priority countries.
The activist said he was “very concerned” about the UK Government’s relationship with the Bahraini regime.
Mr Alwadaei told the PA news agency: “When I was in Geneva, part of what I stated was about how Bahrain is emboldened and empowered to violate international law and human rights because they are able to do so due to the support they receive from the British government.”
He added that his family had suffered reprisals for his activism and said his brother-in-law was currently in prison in Bahrain.
Mr Alwadaei’s lawyer filed a letter to the Home Office in December arguing that the detention at Gatwick was unlawful.
In response to the claim, the Home Office accepted the detention was unlawful and offered an apology and compensation.
In its letter dated December 22, the Government Legal Department said: “Following your client’s complaint, the SSHD [Secretary of State for the Home Department] has reviewed his records and accepts that your client was unlawfully detained.
“The SSHD apologises to your client for the actions of his officials and offers […] compensation for the distress caused.”
Mr Alwadaei was granted asylum in the UK in 2012 after fleeing persecution in Bahrain and was accorded indefinite leave to remain in 2019.
The human rights activist’s Bahraini citizenship was stripped in 2015, leaving Mr Alwadaei and his UK-born daughter stateless.
Mr Alwadaei said: “For years, I have been stopped at UK airports without explanation, but I am relieved that, on this occasion, the Home Office admitted it was unlawful to detain me.
“The UK Government must abide by its laws, ensuring that nobody is unjustly detained, particularly those advocating for human rights.”
Maya Foa, director of the human rights organisation Reprieve, said that the detention was “extremely alarming” and that it raised “troubling questions about the extent of Bahraini influence over the UK Government”.
She added: “Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei is a courageous human rights defender who was granted asylum in the UK after being tortured and beaten for his activism in Bahrain.
“Ministers must urgently confirm whether action against Sayed was brought about by pressure from the Bahraini authorities.”
In November, Beckenham MP Bob Stewart, formerly of the Conservative Party, was found guilty at Westminster Magistrates’ Court of racially abusing Mr Alwadaei by telling him to “go back to Bahrain”.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Border Force’s number one priority is to keep our borders safe and secure, and we will never compromise on this.
“Officers may stop any arriving passenger for the purposes of further examination where they are not immediately satisfied that they qualify for entry.”