Britain’s cash and Bahrain’s firing squads – 5 things we’ve learned

In January 2017, Bahrain carried out the politically-motivated executions of three men – Abbas al-Samea, Sami Mushaima and Ali al-Singace. All were sentenced to death on the basis of forced ‘confessions’ given under torture. Two more prisoners – Mohamed Ramadhan and Husain Moosa – face imminent execution. Both were tortured into providing false confessions and then sentenced on the basis of torture confessions.

Amid these abuses, there are worrying signs that Britain is helping to prop up Bahrain’s death penalty system.

Here are five things we know so far.

1: Britain has spent £5 million assisting the system that made these executions possible

British assistance to justice and security institutions in Bahrain has included training police officers, prosecutors, torture investigators – even guards on the death row where Abbas al-Samea, Sami Mushaima and Ali al-Singace were held before being executed.

Torture is systematic in Bahrain’s prisons, especially for the purpose of extracting ’confessions’ that are used to sentence people to death. Serious concerns about torture and false confessions have been raised in nearly every death penalty case currently proceeding in Bahrain.

2: The three men executed were categorically failed by UK-trained institutions

Abbas and Sami were tortured into providing false confessions in Bahrain’s Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) building just months before Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons assisted an inspection of that very police station. The report that emerged after the inspection made no mention of their torture allegations. Later, Bahrain’s Special Investigation Unit (SIU), a UK-trained body which is supposed to investigate torture complaints, ignored Sami’s complaints entirely and conducted a sham investigation into Abbas’ allegations.

At the same time, the Bahraini Ombudsman for the Ministry of Interior, a third UK-trained body, ignored Mohamed’s torture complaints and refused to investigate them for more than two years, during which time Mohamed and Husain were sentenced to death.

3: Britain can no longer claim to be promoting human rights in Bahrain

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) claims that the goal of its assistance programme is to engender human rights reform in Bahrain, and ministers have characterised UK projects in Bahrain as successful. A deteriorating human rights record and a return to executions after six years cast serious doubts over these claims.

The performance of the institutions receiving UK training should be the benchmark for measuring the success of UK assistance in Bahrain. By that metric, Britain’s deep entanglement with the Bahraini criminal justice system should be considered an abject failure. Abbas, Sami and Ali were executed on the basis of ‘confessions’ given under horrific torture – including beatings, electric shocks to the genitals and sexual assault.

Mohamed and Husain were sentenced to death under the same circumstances and now face imminent execution. Yet in each case, the actions of UK-trained institutions have allowed the death sentences to go forward.

4: The British government has repeatedly glossed over evidence of human rights abuses linked to the bodies it is training

There is clear evidence of Bahrain’s appalling human rights record. Other countries are openly critical and are taking action – the United States has a blanket ban on any security support to Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior. But still, the UK has refused to suspend its involvement.

5: More executions are imminent and the British government is yet to act

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has refused to confirm whether any steps were taken to prevent Bahrain’s recent executions– or whether any action will be taken to stop the upcoming executions of Mohammed Ramadan and Husain Moosa.

The British government cannot be allowed to use taxpayer pounds to help Bahrain whitewash its torture record, while the Gulf Kingdom goes ahead with death sentences and executions.