UK taught Bahrain police how to whitewash custody deaths

October 20, 2016

Image of hands in shackles

Bahrain’s police received UK training on how to tell bereaved families that officers will not be prosecuted after a loved one has died in custody, international human rights group Reprieve has found.

The training was part of a multimillion-pound Foreign Office aid program with the Gulf kingdom, whose security forces use torture and death sentences.

The revelations come amid concerns about Mohammed Ramadan, an innocent father of three who has been held on Bahrain’s death row since 2014 after he was tortured into making a false confession. An investigation into his mistreatment, launched in 2016, has been deeply flawed and failed to meet international standards.

An email shows that senior Bahraini police asked Northern Ireland’s Police Ombudsman in January 2016 for advice about how to present its handling of police complaints:

“Another topic for discussion which was raised is your use of Family Liaison Officers in maintaining the confidence of the deceased’s family in the investigation, and how they deliver difficult messages for example where prosecution is not being recommended. ([Name redacted] has asked if possible could the case of [one line redacted] be discussed? As this was an interesting case as your office vindicated the actions of the officer).”

The visit to Belfast was requested by the UK Foreign Office and organised by NI-CO, a company owned by the Northern Ireland government. The study visit focused on investigations involving deaths or serious injuries caused by police and how to liaise with families in these cases, according to emails obtained through freedom of information requests by Reprieve.

The Bahraini police delegation was from the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), an outfit that is meant to bring prosecutions against officers suspected of abuse. It has received UK training since 2014.

Human Rights Watch has criticised the SIU’s performance, saying that in the last three years, 138 abuse allegations were referred to the SIU, but it only successfully prosecuted one torture case.

Barely two months before the study visit, the SIU announced that the police officers who allegedly tortured France24 journalist Nazeeha Saeed during the Arab Spring would not be prosecuted. They claimed that there was “insufficient evidence”, despite her providing three medical reports of her injuries.

Maya Foa, a director of Reprieve, said:

“It is shocking that Britain paid for Bahrain’s police to learn how to whitewash deaths in custody. Bahrain’s police have tortured innocent people like Mohammed Ramadan into confessing falsely to crimes that carry the death penalty, and intimidated relatives who try to complain. Meanwhile, the UK taxpayer is paying Bahrain’s police to learn how to tell bereaved families that officers won’t be prosecuted after deaths in custody. The FCO needs to urgently suspend NI-CO’s work with Bahrain.”


Notes to Editors:

1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] / +44 (0) 20 7553 8140. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] / +1 917 855 8064.

2. More detail on Mohammed Ramadan’s case is available on the Reprieve website here

3. Reprieve’s report on NI-CO, Belfast to Bahrain: the torture trail, is available to download here

4. In the torture case referred to in the Human Rights Watch report, the detainee died from his injuries – although the six staff involved only received sentences ranging from one to five years.

5. The freedom of information disclosure to Reprieve is available on request