UK authorities trained Bahrain’s police how to gather intelligence on protestors, and then tried to cover up the scheme, international human rights group Reprieve has found. The project took place after protestors in the Gulf kingdom were rounded up and sentenced to death.
Britain’s Foreign Office paid for half a dozen Bahraini police officers to visit Belfast in August 2015, where the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) shared its expertise on gathering intelligence ahead of demonstrations.
Protestors in Bahrain, such as Mohammed Ramadan, have been targeted by police and tortured into falsely confessing to capital crimes. Mr Ramadan, a father of three young children, is now on death row and could be executed at any time.
The training, which also included sessions on water cannons, dog handling and public order tactics, was kept secret. The UK government has repeatedly denied providing public order training to Bahrain.
The Cabinet Office claimed that “The UK does not fund any programmes in Bahrain focused on public order”. However, documents obtained by Reprieve show that Bahrain’s police received an “Introduction to Combined Operational Training with a focus on Public Order.”
The training was prepared by Northern Irish police officers during a week-long “scoping visit” to Bahrain over April-May 2015, where they assessed Bahrain’s public order systems. The Stormont-owned company NI-CO played a key role in organising all the training.
It has also emerged that Bahrain’s Chief of Police and his deputies visited Belfast in June 2014. The itinerary included another session with the PSNI on “Community Intelligence”. The police chief attended a “demonstration of PSNI Public Order systems” and received a “Tour of North and West Belfast ‘Flashpoints’ with 2 or 3 PSNI Armoured Vehicles”.
Bahrain’s Chief of Police had to postpone a visit to Belfast earlier in 2014 because there was a “security emergency in Bahrain at the moment and it is felt that the Chief of Police and other senior officers cannot leave the country at this critical time.” This was a month after death-row prisoner Mohammed Ramadan was tortured. “The situation on the ground is becoming increasingly tense”, an email explained.
Bahrain’s Chief of Police has command level responsibility for violations carried out by lower ranking officers. Months after the police chief visited Belfast for training, teenager Ali al-Singace was arrested and tortured by Bahrain’s police with electric shocks, until he made a false confession to a capital crime. He was executed by firing squad in January 2017.
Commenting, Maya Foa, a director of Reprieve, said:
“It is outrageous that the government has covered up this project, which risks supporting the execution of protesters in Bahrain.
“Bahrain is notorious for arresting, torturing and sentencing to death people involved in protests – such as Mohammed Ramadan, a father of three who is held on death row and faces execution at any moment.
“By training Bahrain’s police how to gather intelligence on protesters, there is a serious risk that Britain is helping them arrest and execute people who are guilty of nothing more than calling for reform. It is scandalous that the Government has sought to sweep this under the carpet.”