Bahrain: British taxpayers backing security services accused of tortureon October 9, 2022 at 11:06 pm

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State bodies accused of serious abuses in the Gulf nation have received £1.8m from the UK this year.

Husain Ali Mehdi and Sayed AhmedImage source, Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)

Security services in Bahrain supported by the UK have been accused of “serious and persistent” human rights abuses.

A Human Rights Watch report alleges people have been tortured at Bahrain’s interior ministry.

That ministry and other security bodies in the country get help worth £1.8m from the Foreign Office this year, Freedom of Information requests reveal.

The Bahrain embassy in London said the country had “a zero-tolerance policy towards mistreatment of any kind”.

The UK Foreign Office said it raises human rights concerns and pulling funding would be “counterproductive”.

The cases of eight men who allege they were tortured at the Bahraini interior ministry’s criminal investigation directorate are documented in Human Rights Watch’s 61-page report.

The human rights group also says two other bodies receiving UK backing – the interior ministry’s special investigative unit and ombudsman – both failed to properly investigate the abuse allegations, as they are supposed to do.

The UK taxpayers’ support is given to Bahrain through the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s secretive gulf strategy fund, which MPs have criticised for lacking transparency.

According to the FCDO, the fund is supposed to help Bahrain “deliver long-term security” by “supporting the implementation of juvenile justice law, criminal justice reform, capacity building of Bahrain’s independent oversight bodies”.

It even supports a “human rights and diplomacy training programme”.

Freedom of Information requests to the FCDO reveal that in the financial year 2021-2022, the gulf strategy fund gave Bahrain £710,028, more than doubling to £1,800,000 in the current year.

‘My blood will be on UK’s hands’

The eight cases set out in the report involve defendants who are on death row in Bahrain after being convicted in homicide cases.

All the men allege they were tortured during interrogation into confessing to crimes they did not commit. They also say they were not allowed to have lawyers present during their interrogation.

One of the convicted defendants who says he was tortured – Mohamed Ramadhan – has written to Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, criticising him for failing to raise his case when he visited Bahrain last year, as he had promised to do during a debate in the House of Commons in 2020.

Mr Ramadhan wrote: “The UK has continued to support and train the very same people and bodies who are responsible for the torture I was subjected to, covering it up and paving the way for Bahrain’s courts to convict me on the basis of a false confession extracted under torture.”

He added: “If my execution is carried out, my blood will be on the UK government’s hands.”

Mohamed Ramadhan reaching through bars to two children

Image source, Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)

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The report – compiled by Human Rights Watch and another campaign group, the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy – is based largely on court documents and other official documents.

It details allegations of beatings, sleep deprivation, attempted rape and electrical shocks, as well as repeated violations of defendants’ rights to a fair trial.

One of the cases involved a man called Zuhair Ebrahim Jasim Abdullah who was arrested for alleged involvement in the killing of a police officer.

He alleged his interrogators attempted to rape him and used electric shocks on his genitals to force a confession.

The report concluded that all cases involved “credible allegations of confessions extracted through torture and ill-treatment”, often supported by medical examinations by government doctors.

It said the prosecution and courts failed to “genuinely investigate, or to credit the results of those investigations that were carried out into the alleged torture and ill-treatment”.

It was “difficult to avoid” concluding that in these cases, Bahrain violated the ban on torture and ill-treatment, and that courts violated their obligations under international and local law to investigate such abuses and ensure a fair trial, it added.

Bahrain, which is ruled by a king whose family hold the main political and military posts, has come under fire for serious human rights violations in the past.

In a statement, the Bahrain embassy in London said the country had “a zero-tolerance policy towards mistreatment of any kind” and had put in place “human rights safeguards and checks and balances to prevent such violations from happening”.

It accepted there had been “individual cases of misconduct” within the police in the past but said “these cases were investigated and dealt with accordingly.”

The embassy said the specific allegations against the eight men named in the report had been investigated by independent bodies and insisted the defendants had been given a fair trial including access to legal counsel.

It added that the men had been convicted of “terror activities” and were responsible for the killing of nine policemen and one civilian.

Yasmine Ahmed, UK director of Human Rights Watch, said it was “shameful that the UK government is supporting institutions implicated in grave human rights abuses”.

“We are calling on the government to publish immediately what human rights assessments were taken ahead of the funding being provided, and to suspend all funding immediately,” she added.

The Foreign Office said the department funded projects in Bahrain to support reform in its justice system and regularly raised concerns about human rights with the government, including the case of Mr Ramadhan.

“All projects on justice and security issues with partners overseas are subject to rigorous risk assessments to meet our human rights’ expectations,” a spokesperson said.

“While we recognise challenges remain, stepping back from supporting reforms would be counterproductive.”

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