UK police chiefs hide ‘high-risk’ Gulf training

November 22, 2016

Images of Ali al-Nimr

The National Police Chiefs’ Council has refused to publish details about UK training provided to officers from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, despite admitting the work poses human rights concerns. “Human error” had resulted in some information being released earlier this year about these projects that should not have been made public, it added.

In the 18 months from January 2015, UK police chiefs approved ten projects to train foreign forces where they identified that the work carried a human rights risk. The list includes countries that use the death penalty, with three applications for work in Saudi Arabia and two for Bahrain.

Police chiefs are refusing to release the documents about their training for Saudi and Bahraini police, claiming that publishing them under the Freedom of Information Act might damage Britain’s diplomatic ties with the Gulf.

Many of the projects were run by the College of Policing, which was criticised by a Parliamentary committee in July for “unacceptable” secrecy over its international police training.

There are concerns over Britain’s work with Bahrain, where police have tortured protestors into making false confessions, landing them on death row. Mohammed Ramadan, a father-of-three, remains under sentence of death since his arrest and torture in 2014 in retaliation for attending a peaceful rally.

The College was criticised in June after human rights charity Reprieve obtained via FOI a risk assessment of one Saudi project, in which the College admitted its training could be “used to identify individuals who later go on to be tortured”. Reprieve has also raised concerns that the training could contribute to the handing down of death sentences for non-violent ‘offences’, such as involvement in protests.

Since then, police chiefs have refused to publish any more documents about policing training in the Gulf, and claimed that the initial information should not have been published in the first place.

The Saudi training included cyber forensic techniques, even though the Gulf kingdom could use this technology against peaceful protestors who go on to receive death sentences.

Ali al-Nimr was just 17 years old when he was sentenced to death for allegedly attending non-violent demonstrations in 2012 and using his blackberry phone to invite friends to join demonstrations.

Many more children were swept up, tortured and sentenced to death in the 2012 crackdown, including Dawood al Marhoon and Abdullah Hasan al-Zaher, who now face beheading at any time.

The College of Policing claims that it would stop such training if there was evidence that it contributed to abuses. However, Reprieve has previously found that the College does not properly monitor the impact of the training.

Commenting, Maya Foa, director of Reprieve, said:

“This secrecy over what Britain’s police teach repressive regimes is simply outrageous. There is a serious risk that British training is helping to arrest and sentence to death people accused of protesting against authoritarian governments in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and elsewhere. The Government needs to stop trying to sweep this under the carpet, and come clean on the training it provides and what steps – if any – it takes to protect human rights.”


Notes to Editors

1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] / +44 (0) 207 553 8140. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at]

2. Reprieve’s revelations from June 2016 about UK training Saudi police are available here

3. Reprieve’s findings about how the College of Policing fails to monitor its training are available here