U.S. Urged To Curb Arms Sales To Bahrain Over Claims Of Forced Confessions And Torture

The U.S. government has been urged to restrict arms sales and security cooperation with Bahrain, due to allegations of serious human rights violations in the Gulf country’s police and judicial system.

In a 61-page report published today, called The Court is Satisfied with the Confession: Bahrain Death Sentences Follow Torture, Sham Trials, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) point to what they say are serious and persistent human rights violations in Bahrain’s judicial system.

They claim that courts in Bahrain have dismissed credible allegations of torture and ill-treatment of suspects and routinely violated a defendants’ rights to a fair trial, including the right to legal counsel and to cross-examine prosecution witnesses.

“In case after case, courts convicted defendants of the crime of homicide and sentenced them to death based solely or primarily on confessions that the defendants (or co-defendants) alleged were coerced through torture and ill-treatment,” the report said.

The call for security cooperation to be restricted is likely to be resisted by both the U.S. and Bahrain, given the extremely close security relationship between the two countries. Bahrain hosts the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet and U.S. Naval Forces Central Command.

UK funding

HRW and BIRD have also called on authorities elsewhere to take action. They said the UK government should suspend funding to a number of government institutions in Bahrain and they asked the European Union to consider taking “targeted measures” against Bahraini officials responsible for the abuses.

The UK government supports a number of the institutions named in the report, including via its Gulf Strategy Fund, which is run by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). Members of the UK parliament have previously called on the government to suspend payments from the fund to Gulf states accused of human rights abuses.

Via a freedom of information request, BIRD has established that in 2020-21 the Gulf Strategy Fund provided support to Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Interior Ombudsman and the Special Investigation Unit. All three bodies are implicated in the report.

Much of the torture and ill-treatment described in the report allegedly took place at the Interior Ministry’s Criminal Investigation Directorate. Meanwhile, the Ministry of the Interior Ombudsman and the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) are accused to failing to properly investigate reports of torture, even when there was corroborating evidence from physicians.

“The findings of this report highlight a glaring lack of oversight and accountability at the FCDO,” said Yasmine Ahmed, UK director of Human Rights Watch. “Abuses in the Bahraini judicial system have been well documented, and we have raised them repeatedly with the FCDO, from the abuse of detained children to the detention of dissidents.

“In light of this new report, we are calling on the UK government … to immediately suspend all funding and support to institutions implicated.”

Sayed Ahmed Al Wadaei, director of advocacy at BIRD, has also called on the UK parliament to investigate UK government-funded training provided to Bahrain’s judiciary. “It must ensure that individuals or institutions who are responsible for facilitating unlawful death sentences, torture or executions do not benefit from taxpayer-funded schemes,” he said.

Claims of torture and forced confessions

The report sets out evidence of serious human rights violations underlying the convictions and death sentences of eight men. It said trial and appeal courts dismissed credible allegations of torture and ill-treatment during interrogation instead of investigating them, violated defendants’ rights to fair trials, including the right to legal counsel during interrogation, the right to cross-examine prosecution witnesses, and through reliance on secretly sourced reports.

One of the cases is that of Zuhair Ebrahim Jasim Abdullah, who was arrested for his alleged involvement in the killing of a police officer. He has said that interrogators attempted to rape him and threatened to rape his wife and they used electric shocks on his chest and genitals. The courts dismissed the torture allegations and sentenced him to death based on his forced confession.

“In case after case, courts relied on coerced confessions, despite defendants’ credible claims of torture and ill-treatment,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

Joshua Colangelo-Bryan, a Human Rights Watch consultant and primary author of the report, also called on Bahrain’s ruler, King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa, to commute all death sentences immediately and said the government should reinstate the de-facto moratorium on executions, which was dropped in 2017.

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