States refuse FoI request on Gorst Bahrain talks

THE States have declined to reveal whether Chief Minister Ian Gorst discussed human rights issues when he met Bahrain’s Finance Minister earlier this year.

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Senator Gorst met Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa during a trip to the Middle East state in September. He visited the country again this week.

The initial meeting drew criticism from Reform Party chairman Deputy Sam Mézec, who raised concerns about the country’s human rights record and described the sheikh as a ‘random dictator’.

Deputy Mézec made the comments in a blog after Senator Gorst said he was ‘honoured’ to meet the minister.

Now, in a freedom of information request which was not lodged by Deputy Mézec, the States have been asked whether Senator Gorst spoke to the minister about his country’s much-criticised human rights records. The request cites Amnesty International’s 2016/17 report, which claims that the country has tightened restrictions on freedom of expression, detained and charged several human rights campaigners, banned others from travelling abroad, imprisoned opposition leaders and used torture.

The Freedom of Information response states that the information is not being released because the Freedom of Information (Jersey) Law contains exemptions for international relations. It says: ‘The Ministry of External Relations believes the exemption applies to this request because disclosure would be likely to prejudice relations between Jersey and the Kingdom of Bahrain.

‘We acknowledge that releasing information on this issue would increase public knowledge about our relations with Bahrain. However, the disclosure of specific detailed information in regards to the contents of private ministerial meetings could potentially damage bilateral relations between Jersey and Bahrain at this early stage.

‘This could reduce the Government of Jersey’s ability to protect and promote Jersey’s interests through its relations with Bahrain in the future, which would not be in the public interest.

‘For these reasons, we consider that the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.’

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