British PM’s Gulf visit: Bahrain upholds death sentences for tortured men

December 5, 2016

Image of a hand grasping onto a fence

A Bahraini court has upheld the death sentences of three men who were tortured into ‘confessions’, and who have faced abuses in a prison where the UK has trained guards. The decision, announced yesterday, comes as the UK Prime Minister prepares to meet Bahraini leaders in the Kingdom tomorrow (6th).

Abbas al-Samea, Sami Mushaima, and Ali al-Singace were sentenced to death in February 2015. All three were tortured into signing false ‘confessions’ that were used against them in court. Mr al-Samea was abused so badly that he was admitted to hospital for surgery. Mr Mushaima was forced to sign documents despite being illiterate.

Bahrain has cracked down harshly on protests in the country since 2011, and there are fears that the men’s treatment is politically motivated – despite scant evidence of their involvement in politics. Sami Mushaima is a relative of a prominent opposition politician, but has never been involved in activism. Abbas al-Samea, a PE teacher and aspiring photojournalist, had taken pictures at a protest.

The three men’s death sentences had been overturned in October this year after a court ruled that their initial sentences were “misjudgments.” However, yesterday, the appeals court upheld the original death sentences. The men will face imminent execution if the Kingdom’s Court of Cassation does not overturn the decision.

The news comes a day before the Prime Minister is due in the Gulf Kingdom for meetings with the Governments of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and others. Theresa May faced criticism today after she appeared to play down human rights concerns, saying: “No doubt there will be some people in the UK who say we shouldn’t seek stronger trade and security ties with these countries because of their record on human rights… we achieve far more by stepping up, engaging with these countries and working with them to encourage and support their plans for reform.”

The UK’s ‘reform’ programme in Bahrain, part of a £136m package of Middle East support, has included the training of as many as 400 prison guards in Jau Prison, Bahrain’s death-row facility, where the three men are currently held. In 2015, Mr al-Samea reported being tortured again in Jau. The UK also funds a prison Ombudsman to handle torture complaints, but there have been concerns that the body has failed to deal properly with torture victims.

Human rights organization Reprieve has written to the Prime Minister asking her to raise the issue of police torture and the death penalty when she meets with Bahraini leaders this week.

Commenting, Maya Foa, a director at Reprieve, said:

“It’s shocking that, as Theresa May defends Britain’s engagement with the Gulf, Bahrain condemns to death three men who were brutally tortured into bogus confessions. Not only is this a grave violation of Bahraini and international law – it also flies in the face of the Prime Minister’s talk of ‘reform.’ When she meets Bahrain’s leaders tomorrow, Theresa May must demand an urgent review of these cases, and call clearly for an end to police torture.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] reprieve.org.uk. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] reprieve.org

2. The full text of the letter to the Prime Minister is available on Reprieve’s website.

3. Mrs May’s comments were reported by the BBC, here.

4. Reprieve’s research into UK support for Bahrain is available here, while further detail about the cases is available on request.