The UK and Bahrain enjoy strong historic, diplomatic, trade and military links. In 1971 Bahrain formally declared independence from the UK and signed a new treaty of friendship and in 2016 the United Kingdom and Bahrain marked 200 years of relations.
The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has worked with the Bahrain Ministry of Interior to share best practice on neighbourhood policing and to try and help prisons better comply with UN standards. The UK has also provided training to human rights institutions, public order training to the Bahrain police, and reform and rehabilitation staff for prisons.
Despite this close relationship, the UK has in fact been critical of Bahrain’s lack of progress on human rights. The FCO’s Human Rights and Democracy Report in 2014 raised concerns over allegations of torture. In a visit to the country later in that year, the then Foreign Secretary, the Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP, raised concerns about human rights issues with the King and Crown Prince of Bahrain. As late as this year, the current Foreign Secretary, the Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP, criticised the decision of the Bahrain Government to push ahead with the executions of three men.
The UK Government has however maintained a clear position in consistent answers to written questions in Parliament in both 2016 and 2017 that only through working with Bahrain could the necessary changes be brought about.
Allegations of torture
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch report that torture continues in Bahrain - in particular, solitary confinement and inadequate medical care for detainees, particularly people suspected of terrorism. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights has appealed to the Bahrain Government to stop the use of torture for confessions and the use of the death penalty.
These claims are further supported by The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, a non-governmental organisation which documents and reports on human rights violations in Bahrain. It remains deeply concerned about the increase in the use of detention by the Bahraini authorities and has catalogued the different methods of torture that are used by the Bahraini authorities on prisoners, both physical and psychological. These include: beatings, forced standing, electric shocks, sleep deprivation, food deprivation and sexual threats against family members.
Testimonies from individuals have been common. Dr Ali Ali Ekri, a doctor in Bahrain, claims he was tortured and forced to confess to crimes he did not commit for helping protesters in 2011. Hussain Jawad, a member of the European-Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights, said he endured violence and sexual humiliation after his night time arrest for alleged offences against the state.
Bahrain’s response in dealing with the claims
A new body, the Office of the Ombudsman, was formally launched in Bahrain by the Ministry of Interior and Islamic affairs in 2013 to investigate the events in the Arab Spring uprisings. It is responsible for handling complaints from detainees, their families and human rights groups. This was in addition to The Special Investigations Unit which was established by the Bahrain Government in 2012 to investigate and prosecute claims of torture and other abuse.
Human Rights Watch have said these bodies are inadequate for ending the use of torture by Bahrain security forces. Recently, Amnesty have shown that no senior security officers have been prosecuted over alleged human rights violations and that there had been acquittals of police officers involved. The US State Department also highlights incidents where complaints against the acquittals of security forces accused of torture have been rejected, meaning that all legal routes were exhausted.
In fact, the European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights claim the Bahraini judicial system is controlled by the Government and is completely arbitrary, with last-minute postponements and arbitrary sentences. Another organisation, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights,said they have found consistently that Bahrain’s accountability mechanisms operate without the requisite independence from the government and continually fail to bring perpetrators to justice and have failed to investigate claims of torture. Reprieve, in their report Belfast to Bahrain: The Torture Trial, have said that Bahrain’s Ombudsman had knowingly refused for more than two years to investigate complaints regarding torture of Bahraini citizens.
Crucially, these opinions are in contrast to the official view of the FCO which has praised the work of the Ombudsman.
Evidence suggests that torture against prisoners continues in Bahrain and that current independent mechanisms in Bahrain for investigating torture are inadequate. Bahrain is a key historical ally of the UK. But the UK Government is coming under pressure from organisations such as Reprieve, Index on Censorship, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty to take a harder stance against the Kingdom.
Michael Hough is a Research Assistant at Bright Blue