Charities slam UK Government for aiding whitewash of Bahrain police abuses

Millions of foreign office funds go to failed training of authoritarian police force

THE human rights charity Reprieve have condemned the UK foreign office and Northern Irish (NI) police forces for helping to train Bahrain’s police on how to tell bereaved families that officers would not be prosecuted after loved ones have died in custody.

According to the charity, the foreign office used its multi million-pound aid program with the Gulf state, despite its security forces being criticised for the use of torture and death sentences before, during and after the country was rocked by the Arab Spring in 2011.

The accusations are levelled at a delegation from the Bahraini police, part of the unit called the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which visited Northern Ireland on request from the foreign office.

“It is shocking that Britain paid for Bahrain’s police to learn how to whitewash deaths in custody.” Maya Foa

Maya Foa, director of Reprieve, said: “It is shocking that Britain paid for Bahrain’s police to learn how to whitewash deaths in custody.

“Bahrain’s police have tortured innocent people like Mohammed Ramadan into confessing falsely to crimes that carry the death penalty, and intimidated relatives who try to complain.

“Meanwhile, the UK taxpayer is paying Bahrain’s police to learn how to tell bereaved families that officers won’t be prosecuted after deaths in custody. The FCO [Forign and CommonWealth Office] needs to urgently suspend NI-CO’s [Northern Ireland Co-operation Overseas] work with Bahrain.”

The SIU is a unit that is meant to bring prosecutions against officers suspected of abuse which was trained by NI-CO, a state-owned Belfast business.

As a result of a freedom of information (FoI) request, Reprieve obtained an email showing that senior Bahraini police asked Northern Ireland’s Police Ombudsman (NIPO) in January of this year, for advice on how to present its handling of police complaints.

The email reads: “Another topic for discussion which was raised is your use of Family Liaison Officers in maintaining the confidence of the deceased’s family in the investigation, and how they deliver difficult messages for example where prosecution is not being recommended. ([Name redacted] has asked if possible could the case of [one line redacted] be discussed? As this was an interesting case as your office vindicated the actions of the officer).”

Between 2015 and 2016, the foreign office awarded NI-CO over £900,000 out of a £2m aid package to promote purported human rights reform in Bahrain. 

The most high profile example of collaboration between the NI-CO and the Bahraini Government was in the case of Mohammed Ramadan, an Arab Spring dissident and a father of three, who has been held on Bahrain’s death row since 2014, after he was tortured into making a false confession.

Despite the Bahrain interior ministry ombudsman relying on the training of NI-CO, the investigation into his mistreatment launched in 2016 was described by Human Rights Watch (HRW) as “deeply flawed” and “failing to meet international standards.”

Between 2015 and 2016, the foreign office awarded NI-CO over £900,000 out of a £2m aid package to promote purported human rights reform in the Gulf kingdom, which is the site of a new strategic naval base. Since 2013, 400 Bahraini officers have trained with 13 NI-CO officers, with trainers from NI going to work in the infamous Jau prison where accusations of systemic torture have persisted.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has criticised the SIU’s performance, saying that in the last three years, 138 abuse allegations were referred to the SIU, but it only successfully prosecuted one torture case.

In another case, the SIU announced that the police officers who allegedly tortured France24 journalist Nazeeha Saeed during the Arab Spring would not be prosecuted. They claimed that there was “insufficient evidence”, despite her providing three medical reports of her injuries. Other abuses have occured with the police forces of Egypt, also trained by British police.

“The UK taxpayer is paying Bahrain’s police to learn how to tell bereaved families that officers won’t be prosecuted after deaths in custody. The FCO needs to urgently suspend NI-CO’s work with Bahrain.” Maya Foa

The kingdom of Bahrain is a Shia majority nation with a Sunni royal family which has historically monopolised power in the country. Following the Arab Spring in 2011 and the protests which accompanied its arrival in Bahrain, the authorities have insisted that all dissident elements are terrorists encouraged by the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Earlier this year, Bahrain was put on to the list of “Priority Countries” in a report compiled by the FCO human rights project. HRW, MPs and campaigners have suggested that the establishment ties between Bahrain and the UK are preventing the country’s appalling human rights abuses from being focused upon.

When the FCO’s Human Rights Report 2015 was launched in April, Philip Hammond, the then Foreign Secretary under David Cameron who is now Theresa May’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, claimed that human rights would be a top priority.

However, in October 2015, Sir Simon McDonald, the most senior civil servant in the FCO, told the parliamentary roreign affairs select committee that the UK Government’s “prosperity agenda, is now further up the list” than human rights.

Picture courtesy of Reprieve

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