Archive for the ‘Bahrain’ Category


Issue of Sportswash has emerged again with two Formula 1 races to be held in Bahrain

UPDATE 26 November

Guardian piece 

Sport and politics have never been too far apart.  During the Cold War, countries like East Germany and Russia spent enormous sums on their sports programmes in an attempt to demonstrate to the world how successful they were.  Recently, we have seen countries like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain use their vast wealth to secure favourable media coverage.  Earlier in the year, we featured the attempt to purchase Newcastle FC using Saudi money.

These countries are also able to pay large sums to public relations firms to massage their reputations.  Before we rush to condemn sporting organisations, sportsmen and women too quickly however, we need to look at the tangled web of influence and connections between a variety of people and the Bahraini regime.  One such is the retired Chief of Defence staff Baron, formerly General, Richards of Herstmonceux.  Despite the unrest,  crackdowns and multiple human rights violations in Bahrain, Baron Richards was able to advise them on a variety of areas using his company Palliser Associates and Equilibrium Global.  There are various connections to the former prime minister David Cameron.  Full details and further links can be found on a Daily Maverick piece.

The human rights situation in Bahrain is extremely poor.  Women do not have equal rights; many people are declared stateless; prison conditions are extremely poor with limited medical treatment for those detained; the death penalty is used and there is no free expression to speak of.  There is no independent media.  Amnesty’s report on the country can be read on this link.  Human Rights Watch’s summary says:

Bahrain’s human rights situation continues to be dire.  Courts convict and imprison prominent human rights defenders and opposition leaders for their peaceful activism.  Security forces ill-treat, threaten, and coerce alleged suspects into signing confessions.  Authorities have resumed executions, many after unfair trials marred by torture allegations, and fail to hold officials accountable for torture.  Courts have stripped the citizenship of hundreds, leaving many stateless, and deported dozens of dissidents, journalists, and lawyers as punishments for offenses that include peaceful criticism of the government.  Authorities in 2017 shut down the only independent newspaper in the country as well as opposition parties.  Members of dissolved opposition parties were banned from running in parliamentary elections in November 20.  Human Rights Watch

A full analysis of the political situation in Bahrain is provided by Freedom House.

Western governments, including the UK, have been extremely keen to establish good relations with the state because of lucrative defence spending.  We have also established a base there. It is seen as a ‘core market‘ for us.  The Daily Mail has published an article, with multiple photos, showing the many meetings between the Queen, and other members of our Royal family, and the King of Bahrain.  Lots of jollity on show. 

Sport and Sports Wash is thus just one part of the picture.  Bahrain is a wealthy and powerful regime well able via offers of money and contracts, to ‘buy’ political influence.  But things may be beginning to stir.  World Champion racing driver, Lewis Hamilton, has made statements highlighting human rights issues in countries seeking to sanitise their reputations.  Recently, he said:

We realise we’ve got to not ignore human rights issues in counties that we go to, not just 20 years, 30 years from now, but now.

In another development is that 30 UK cross party members of parliament have written to the Chief Executive of Formula 1, Chase Carey, to express their disquiet at plans to hold the Grand Prix races in Bahrain.

[They expressed] concern that the Bahrain Grand Prix is exploited be the by the Bahrain government to ‘sports wash’ their human rights record

The role of Marcus Rashford is also noteworthy in this regard.  It was his intervention which was key to changing the government’s position on free school meals.  Maybe we are seeing the stirrings of conscience among some sports people that they do have a role to play in the political arena.  With their vast followings and star status, they are in a prime position to speak to their public and highlight some of the terrible things that go on in countries like Bahrain.

Up till now, money, arms sales, and a cosy relationship with politicians, service people and the Royal family, has enabled these regimes to carry on the mistreatment of their subjects, with human rights organisations merely an irritant, a kind of background noise, who can safely be ignored. But sport has a mass following as the prime minister discovered to his discomfort earlier this month. If more sportsman like Hamilton and Rashford, begin to use their power to focus the minds of their fans onto what is going on in these despotic countries, maybe the political ground will shift.


Firm based in Porton accused of selling spy equipment to harsh regimes

Considerable interest has been aroused in the last month or so concerning the use of Huawei technology to provide 5G connectivity in the UK.  Other countries in the ‘Five Eyes’ group – USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand – will not use this equipment because of fears of intrusion by the Chinese state.  The worry is that the Chinese will gain a backdoor entry into our messages, emails and the like thus compromising our security.  For weeks, the issue has been discussed and could well have repercussions as far as our relationship with the Americans is concerned.

It was not that long ago that the UK and USA were revealed to be invading people’s messages on an industrial scale via the Prism and Tempora programmes.  21 petabytes of data are downloaded a day and there is huge process involved in sifting and selecting the messages which have been intercepted.  It therefore seems inconsistent to be worrying about Chinese intrusion when our own governments are heavily involved in doing the same thing.  The difference is one is our own people and the others are Chinese.  It is claimed that only metadata is collected by GCHQ.

The UK government sponsors an exhibition of security equipment at an event called Security and Policing held at Farnborough.  It is a similar exhibition to DSEI which takes place in London – also supported by the UK government – where arms firms exhibit their wares.  The guest list of both events reveal a range of authoritarian regimes as customers keen to get access to weapons and security equipment with which to maintain their hold on power.  Huawei has achieved considerable publicity for something they claim does not and will not happen while, by contrast, surveillance which is happening receives almost no coverage at all.

What do we mean by … ?

Of course, a lot depends on what we mean by ‘police’ and ‘security’.  Police forces around the world need equipment with which to tackle organised crime, drug smuggling, people trafficking and the like.  Countries might legitimately need equipment to intercept and interdict attempts to commit terrorist offences or attack their citizens.  The difference occurs when this equipment is used to silence critics of the regime, arrest and mistreat them or cause them to disappear.  If people who are peacefully protesting, seeking democracy, acting as human rights defenders or pursuing human rights, have their communications, emails and computers intercepted and compromised using UK manufactured kit then it can be argued this is wrong.  The government goes to great lengths to keep this activity confidential running the only closed event in the country, suggesting it knows that it is potentially damaging.  A member of the parliamentary Arms Export Committee, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, was barred from entering the 2019 exhibition which he said was deeply alarming.

Meanwhile, here in Salisbury …

In the village of Porton, just outside Salisbury – the same village as in Porton Down – is a firm, Gamma TSE which makes this equipment Finfisher and the aptly called Finspy.  What it does was hard to discover exactly but thanks to Wikileaks, details of its equipment are available for all to see.  A pdf which provides comprehensive details of the firm’s spying capabilities to covertly extract data from a computer system, bypass password protection and obtain information from a bank are all described in great detail.  Examples of its extensive interception capabilities are described in information sheets:

The FinIntrusion Kit was used to break the WPA encryption of a Target’s home Wireless network and then monitor his Webmail (Gmail, Yahoo, …) and Social Network (Facebook, MySpace, …) credentials, which enabled the investigators to remotely monitor these accounts from Headquarters without the need to be close to the Target.

Several customers used the FinIntrusion Kit to successfully compromise the security of networks and computer systems for offensive and defensive purposes using various Tools and Techniques.

The password ‘sniffer’ is described thus:

LAN/WLAN Active Password Sniffer
Captures even SSL-encrypted data like Webmail, Video Portals, Online-Banking and more.

It’s ability to gain access remotely:

Usage Example 1: Covert Operation
A source in an Organized Crime Group (OCG) was given a FinUSB Dongle that secretly extracted Account Credentials of Web and Email accounts and Microsoft Office documents from the Target Systems, while the OCG used the USB device to exchange regular files like Music, Video and Office Documents.

After returning the USB device to Headquarters the gathered data could be decrypted, analysed and used to constantly monitor the group remotely.

A worrying feature is the ability of Finspy to operate around the world:

FinSpy has been proven successful in operations around the world for many years, and valuable intelligence has been gathered about Target Individuals and Organizations.
When FinSpy is installed on a computer system it can be remotely controlled and accessed as soon as it is connected to the internet/network, no matter where in the world the Target System is based.  [our italics]

Since many dissidents or people in opposition to a particular regime have fled to Europe including the UK, it leaves open the question of whether this equipment is being used to monitor people now living in the UK.  This was a point made by Privacy International.

The firm also offers training and the list of courses tell their own chilling story:

Sample Course Subjects

· Profiling of Target Websites and Persons

· Tracing anonymous Emails

· Remote access to Webmail Accounts

· Security Assessment of Web-Servers & Web-Services

· Practical Software Exploitation

· Wireless IT Intrusion (WLAN/802.11 and Bluetooth)

· Attacks on critical Infrastructures

· Sniffing Data and User Credentials of Networks

· Monitoring Hot-Spots, Internet Cafés and Hotel Networks

· Intercepting and Recording Calls (VoIP and DECT)

· Cracking Password Hashes

The literature refers several times to ‘organised crime groups’ and this equipment is likely to be of value to police forces acting to stop such activity in their country.  The problem is that countries like Bahrain are likely to use these methods against democracy and human rights campaigners.

Implications

The law firm Leigh Day in London launched a claim in 2019 on behalf of four Bahraini nationals who had been targeted using information obtained using this technology.  Privacy International identified Gamma as having sold this technology to Bahrain:

In 2012, Citizen Lab, a think-tank operating out of the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, came across evidence suggesting that Gamma International, a multinational technology corporation with offices across the world, sold a form of malware called FinFisher to Bahrain. Bahraini activists, amongst others, were seriously concerned: FinFisher gives its operator complete access to a target’s computer and mobile phone. That kind of technology in the hands of a state like Bahrain, with its record of human rights abuse, would put at risk a great many people’s lives.

Gamma emphatically denied selling this kit to Bahrain.  However, documents subsequently discovered provided evidence that they had already done so.   The cruel treatment of these elderly individuals is described in an Amnesty report and includes the denial of medical treatment and medication.  A solicitor acting for Gamma says there is no evidence of the firm being involved in human rights abuses and they will defend the claim being made against them.

Gamma are not the only firm selling this equipment.  The UK government has been, and is planning to again, to run the secretive exhibition keeping close control over who attends and keeping anyone away who might question its ethics.  The UK government has made no comment on the actions of the Bahraini authorities, or the allegations of Gamma’s alleged involvement.  If the surveillance by the Bahraini authorities is carried out on computers located within the UK, it is unlawful.

It appears to be a worrying sign of increasing indifference by the UK government of the effects on ordinary people living under oppressive regimes who suffer from the use of arms and surveillance equipment supplied by firms based here in the Britain.  It is inconceivable that GCHQ is unaware of what this firm is doing and its client list around the world which includes several of these regimes.  This indifference is damaging to our reputation and parliamentarians should be asking searching questions of the minister.  The British government has many relationships with the Bahraini royal family.  The Queen and other members of the royal household meet quite regularly.  Today, (10 February 2020) it was reported that Liam Fox met the Bahraini crown prince to lobby on behalf of Petrofac, the owner of which is a major Conservative party donor (£800,000).  It seems quite clear that trade considerations trump human rights issues in government thinking.

Sources:  Amnesty International; Campaign Against the Arms Trade; Citizen’s Lab (Canada); WikiLeaks; Gamma; VICE; the Guardian; Privacy International


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Threat of execution following confession induced by torture

Bahrain continues to attract attention on the human rights front and we have posted several items over the years.  In 2011, Hussain Ali Moosa and Mohamed Ramadhan took part in an uprising against the Bahraini monarchy.  Three years later in 2014, they were sentenced to death for killing a policeman. The main piece of evidence used during the trial was Hussain Ali Moosa’s forced “confession” extracted from him under torture.  This “confession” was also used to incriminate Mohamed Ramadhan.  The picture is courtesy of BahrainRights.org

If you are able to support this action it would be appreciated.

Urgent Action – Bahrain

There is also a report published by Amnesty on this country.


If you are interested in joining the group and you live in the Salisbury/Amesbury/Wilton area you would be most welcome.  The best thing is to come to one of our events which can be found at the end of recent minutes or posted on Twitter and Facebook and make yourself known.  It is free to join the Salisbury group.


F1 race to go ahead despite widespread human rights infringements in Bahrain

All you need to know about Halo ahead of the 2018 F1 seasonSport is being used more and more to present a sanitised view of a country and to hide or obscure human rights abuses.  Russia with the Olympics and Qatar with the World Cup are both examples of dubious regimes using sport to enhance their image.  In the case of FIFA there is the issue of massive corruption within the organisation itself.

The latest example is Formula 1 and the race to take place in Bahrain.  The country has scant regard for human rights.  Arrests, unfair trials, the use of torture are all commonplace.  In 2017 the last newspaper was closed down.  In a previous blog, we highlighted a local firm in Porton (a village near Salisbury, UK) which supplies spyware to this regime.

As the US State Dept. said in a report on the country in 2017:

The most significant human rights issues [in Bahrain] included reports of arbitrary or unlawful killings by security forces; allegations of torture of detainees and prisoners; harsh and potentially life-threatening conditions of detention; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners; unlawful interference with privacy; restrictions on freedom of expression, including by the press and via the internet; restriction of academic and cultural events; restrictions on the rights of association and assembly; allegations of restrictions on freedom of movement, including arbitrary citizenship revocation; and limits on Shia political participation.

Further examples of abuse of human rights can be found in a Human Rights Watch report.  Amnesty international has also produced a report saying similar things.

The F1 site itself claims to respect human rights issues in its policy;

  1.  The Formula 1 companies are committed to respecting internationally recognised human rights in its operations globally.

The problem is they do not.  Before races there is a severe clampdown in the area and protestors can be shot.  The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy is one of 15 human rights organisations to have written to F1 president Jean Todt calling on them to act in the case of Najah Yusuf who was imprisoned last year for criticising the regime on Facebook.  The response yesterday is not encouraging:

It’s quite easy,” he said. “We are here for a sport event, not for a political event. That means – first of all, I was surprised that there are still some political turmoil which I don’t think is the reality.

I think that the reality is just that a few people want to create troubles and Formula One is here to make sport, to entertain the people.  We should not be involved in any political questions.  This, people should do, who are here, who are living here. The government, whoever, that’s their job, not our job.  [Statement 30 March 2019, Our italics]

Which rather conflicts with its policy statement above.  It seems as though nothing a country does can stop the likes of F1 or other sporting regimes from carrying on their activities in a country with dubious or dire human rights.  As long as the money’s right …


The DSEI arms fair starts in London

This bi-annual event held in London receives a considerable amount of opposition and is a place for protest against the arms trade.  The description of the event by the organisers is blandness itself:

World leading event that brings together the global defence and security sectors to innovate and share knowledge.

It paints a picture of people coming together in some kind of seminar format to discuss defence issues as though it is a think-tank.  The reality is a little different as it is a place where all kinds of weapons manufacturers can display and secure deals to a wide range of countries who come to visit.  If it is as benign as the description implies one has to ask why organisations like Amnesty are denied access?  The purpose is to sell arms and to quote the organising company:

It’s a model that works well in the Middle East…There’s a lot of money being spent here in the UAE on homeland security technology, so it’s a good market in which to roll out our brand

Among the invitees are countries with highly dubious and questionable human rights records.  These include according to the guest list: Brunei, Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and UAE.  If we look at Bahrain in particular, a recent Amnesty report on the country published earlier this year concluded, inter alia:

Since June 2016, the Bahraini authorities have dramatically stepped up their crackdown on dissent. As a result, by June 2017, Bahrain’s formerly thriving civil society had found itself reduced to a few lone voices brave enough to speak out.  The majority of peaceful critics, whether they are human rights defenders or political activists, now feel the risk of doing so has become too high. Over the course of a year, the authorities increasingly resorted to a wide range of repressive tactics including arrest, harassment, threats, prosecution and imprisonment to silence peaceful critics.  Amnesty International’s research concludes that the security forces have even resorted to torturing or otherwise ill-treating human rights defenders, both men and women, a practice that has not been prevalent in Bahrain since the height of the crackdown that followed the 2011 uprising.

The report went onto to describe how Bahrain has backtracked on reform and noted that in the period June 2016 to June 2017, 169 critics or relatives have been arrested, summonsed, interrogated, prosecuted, imprisoned, banned from travel or threatened.  Freedom of expression is increasingly criminalised and the opposition party has in effect been dismantled.  The report was compiled after a large number of interviews were carried out including with 52 victims, 58 journalists, lawyers and others, and the investigation of 210 cases.

The British government has worked hard to promote our interests with Bahrain and a Daily Mail article in 2016 detailed the many links from the Queen down through the rest of the Royal Family.  Theresa May visited recently.

As far as the Arms fair DSEI itself is concerned, Andrew Smith of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade which is helping to coordinate protests said:

DSEI will bring many of the world’s most appalling regimes together with the biggest arms companies.  Right now UK fighter jets and bombs are playing a central role in the destruction of Yemen; what will be the next atrocity they are used in?  War, repression and injustice are fuelled by events like DSEI.  It’s time to shut it down for good

DSEI was formerly part of the UK Trade and Industry Department but has now been moved to the newly formed Department for International Trade the minister of which is Liam Fox.

In an interview on the BBC today (11 September) Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition, said “[the UK] sells too many arms to countries which abuse human rights.”

The guest list shows several firms with a Salisbury link who are exhibiting at this fair.  They include Babcock, Chemring’s, QinetiQ and Cubic.

The government has got itself into something of a fix over the question of arms sales.  Whilst claiming to have a strict code and robust procedures, the sale of arms to questionable regimes has increased.  Thousands of jobs now depend on this industry and with future problems likely to arise connected with our withdrawal from the EU, from an economic viewpoint we can ill afford to reduce sales of weapons.  It is thus on a treadmill requiring it to support the sale of weapons to a range of unsavoury regimes who in turn use these weapons to intimidate their own people or to cause suffering of neighbouring countries such as the bombing of Yemen by the Saudis.  It is also important to bear in mind that it is not just weapons that are involved but also security equipment.  Autocratic regimes are keen to keep tabs on their citizens and need all the techniques of surveillance to do so.  This kind of equipment, although not lethal of itself, does enable individuals to be monitored, watched and harassed.

The position is indefensible and some of the arguments echo those used by the slave trade in the nineteenth century where large numbers of jobs were involved in its continuation.


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Sport being used to whitewash unsavoury regimes

When we turn to our sports pages, we expect to read about who is beating Britain at cricket, the latest in the long-running saga of the English football team or Andy Murray’s latest exploits on the tennis courts.  We do not expect to read about human rights or to see quotes from organisations like Human Rights Watch or this one – Amnesty.  They are to be found on the news pages surely.

But on Tuesday 18 July, the Guardian in the UK devoted nearly two whole pages in its sports section to the sponsorship by Bahrain of a range of sporting activities and sportsmen in an effort to create a more favourable image for itself.

And it needs to.  The country has a quite appalling record of human rights abuses.  These include torture, in particular beatings and the use of electric shocks.  Freedom of assembly has been severely restricted and peaceful protests have been violently put down.  Nabeel Rajaab – a human rights defender is in prison.

Alan Hogarth, head of policy and government affairs for Amnesty said:

It seems pretty clear that the Bahraini authorities have stepped up efforts to associate the country with major sporting events as glitzy cover for an ever-worsening human rights crackdown.  For the most part, Bahrain’s harnessing of the glamour and prestige of sport has helped deflect attention from the arrests of peaceful critics, reports of tortured detainees, unfair trials and death sentences.

But you would not know this from the sports pages where all is glamour and excitement.  Pictured is the Olympic gold winner

Alistair Brownlee. Pic nztri.co.nz

Alistair Brownlee – featured in the Guardian article – promoting a Bahrain sponsored event.  Other sports include F1 motor racing, football with FIFA siting its conference in the country and cycling.  Spokesmen for the various organisations involved in laundering Bahrain’s image claim that they are not competent authorities to assess the human rights violations taking place there.  There are also claims that the sporting activities will help overcome the problems.  This might have a grain of truth if during coverage, human rights issued were raised by commentators.  Of that there has been no sign.

Bahrain cycling team colours. Photo; Bettini

Their promotional activities are not limited to sport as members of the UK’s Royal family have been pressed into service.  Her majesty the Queen herself welcomed King Hamad to the Royal Windsor horse show and there are pictures of Prince Charles and Prince Andrew with various members of the Bahraini royal family.

We do not have to look far for reasons for this rolling out of the red carpet for members of this royal family as it is our old friend arms sales which are behind it.  It led Theresa May to visit the country last year.  As CAAT reports we are keen to foster arms sales there including Typhoon jets and we have established a naval base at Mina Salman.  Defence clearly trumps human rights considerations.

At present, the sportsmen and women can collect their fees and promotional monies free in the knowledge that the majority of those reading of their sporting achievements probably do not concern themselves too much with goes on in the countries like Bahrain and how they treat their own citizens.  And only rarely do the stories touch on these matters since sport seems to exist in a kind of box as far the rest of coverage is concerned.  Sport, money and politics are now closely entwined.  Sports stars enjoy huge acclaim and some have a large fan base.  They have huge influence over the young who spend large sums on their merchandise.  This is a big responsibility.

But is it too much to ask that sporting people should have a conscience and should be concerned that their names and images are being used to hide serious abuses taking place?  Where a regime such as Bahrain is using sport to whitewash its reputation then sporting people should be aware of the role they are playing and the harm they are doing.  Should they not be concerned that they are being used by these regimes?


An Amnesty post on this topic

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Three men executed today in Bahrain – the first in 2017

Three men were executed today, 15 January 2017, in Bahrain.  This has taken place in a country which likes to claim its commitment to human rights.  The convictions were allegedly procured using torture which – according to local human rights groups – included suspension from the ceiling, beatings, electric shock to the genitals and elsewhere, food and sleep deprivation.  Violent demonstration are said to have broken out.

The human rights situation in Bahrain is described as ‘dismal’ and in addition to the use of torture, there has been an orchestrated crack-down on the right to free speech and human rights activists and opposition politicians face arrest and repression.

Britain is closely involved in the Kingdom and Theresa May visited the country recently as part of a bid to boost trade.  This has raised the issue of our relationship with a country with such poor human rights.  She was quoted as saying:

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. But we don’t uphold our values and human rights by turning our back on this issue. We achieve far more by stepping up, engaging with these countries and working with them

It doesn’t seem to be going so well.  There is indeed something to be said for engagement if it does over time secure better standards.  It was reported today that Yarls Wood detention centre received a visit by Bahraini officials from the very prisons where torture is alleged to take place.  The funding was from the secretive Conflict Stability and Security Fund which a select committee of MPs has been unable to find out much about.  But once again it looks like fine words when in reality there is no improvement and all that seems matter is securing business.  The UK has just opened a naval base in the state so our ability to apply pressure is further limited.

A Salisbury based firm has allegedly been supplying spyware equipment to enable the Bahraini security forces to penetrate mobile phones and computers.


Sources:

Mail Group Newspapers; Guardian; Observer; Amnesty International; Reprieve; Bahrain Center for Human Rights

 

 

 


A Salisbury based firm, Gamma TSE, has been accused of supplying spyware to enable Bahraini activists to be arrested

UPDATE 15 March 17

Extract from a recent University of Toronto report:

[…] Far from using this spyware solely to track what might be considered legitimate targets, these countries and their shadowy agencies have repeatedly used them to get inside the computers of human rights activists, journalists, opposition politicians, and even health advocates supporting a soda tax in Mexico. Some of the victims of these campaigns have found themselves arrested and tortured. Leaked emails from certain companies reveal that, despite public assurances by executives, the vendors seem cavalier about these type of abuses, have few internal checks in place to prevent them, and, indeed, knowingly court the clandestine agencies responsible for such abuses. Despite these alarming incidents, however, the dynamics of and participants in the market at large remain opaque. 

While arguments rage in the USA concerning the alleged interference by Russia of the

Porton Business Centre

Porton Business Centre

presidential elections, a secretive Salisbury based firm, Gamma TSE, has been accused by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development of supplying software called FinFisher or FinSpy to the authorities in Bahrain and elsewhere.  This software enables intelligence agencies to insert Trojan software into computers and mobile phones.  This in turn enables people critical of the regime to be tracked and if necessary arrested by the security services.  The University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab is documenting the widespread use of this spying software.

Privacy International, Bahrain Watch, the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and Reporters Without Borders lodged a complaint with the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights.  They allege that the equipment is used by repressive regimes to harass and target dissidents, politicians and human rights activists.

Our involvement with repressive states – especially those in the Gulf – is well-known and Theresa May recently visited Bahrain to promote business interests in the kingdom.  As we have noted many times before, there seems little interest in the consequences of our arms and security companies activities on the ordinary people who live in those countries, the death and destruction in Yemen being particularly awful.

Part of the units occupied by Gamma in Porton

Part of the units occupied by Gamma in Porton

Gamma is again in the news today (9 January 2017, p13) in a Times article entitled ‘No 10 linked to spyware in human rights row’ which reveals that despite the criticism by the OECD, they have been invited to the Home Office sponsored International Security and Policing exhibition in London.  Amnesty reports show that the human rights situation in Bahrain is very poor with reports of torture and other forms of abuse:

[it] details dozens of cases of detainees being beaten, deprived of sleep and adequate food, burned with cigarettes, sexually assaulted, subjected to electric shocks and burned with an iron.  One was raped by having a plastic pipe inserted into his anus.

It said the report showed torture, arbitrary detentions and excessive use of force against peaceful activists and government critics remained widespread in Bahrain.

The OECD report was not conclusive about Gamma as it was a ‘reluctant participant in the proceedings refusing to productively engage in a September 2013 mediation and employed stalling efforts.’

Privacy International say:

Gamma has proven itself to be and irresponsible corporate actor that is indifferent to the human rights impacts of its activities.

The Amnesty report also says:

The government [of Bahrain] continued to curtail freedoms of expression, association and assembly and cracked down further on online and other dissent. Opposition leaders remained imprisoned; some were prisoners of conscience. Torture and other ill-treatment remained common. Scores were sentenced to long prison terms after unfair trials. Authorities stripped at least 208 people of their Bahraini nationality. Eight people were sentenced to death; there were no executions.

A firm helping regimes with a record of mistreating its citizens and regularly using torture, is based in the village of Porton, near Salisbury, Wiltshire.

 

 

 


Prime minister’s trip to Bahrain gives a hint to what will happen to human rights after Brexit

Picture: Express

The prime minister, Theresa May, is on an official to Bahrain amid controversy about the poor state of human rights in the kingdom.  It is really quite difficult to grasp quite what the Prime Minister means when she says the ‘UK must not turn our back on the human rights abuses of foreign countries’ as she prepares to sign various trade deals which does precisely that.  There is a growing hint of riddle like statements from her including the meaningless ‘Brexit means Brexit’.

There now seems to be a desperate urge to secure trade deals ahead of our departure from the EU and the Gulf states are fertile ground.  She is quoted in the Guardian (5 December 2016)

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.  But we don’t uphold our values and human rights by turning our back on this issue.  We achieve far more by stepping up, engaging with these countries and working with them.

So the argument is that Bahrain has a questionable human rights record and that by working with them, and doing business, we can exert some kind of influence to encourage them to stop torturing or otherwise mistreating their people.  Since we have been trading their for some time, we would expect that the country would be slowly improving as a result of our influence.  The problem is that it isn’t.  As Human Rights Watch and Amnesty have said:

Bahrain’s 2016 “reform” agenda has consisted of an assault on core elements of civil society and jailing or deporting government critics.  Last month, Amnesty International accused UK Ministers of acting like “overexcited cheerleaders for Bahrain’s woefully inadequate reforms.”

On December 4, Human Rights Watch and others wrote to Prime Minister May to complain about the British government’s ‘abject failure to exert any positive influence’ in Bahrain.  We didn’t call on the UK to end trade or security ties, but rather to use the UK’s influence to help put a stop to an orchestrated attack on rights that has badly undermined any prospect of the reform that the UK claims to support.

What exactly “working with” Bahrain to “encourage and support” reform amounts to, remains to be seen.  But one thing is clear – human rights will not be at the center of the UK’s relationship with Bahrain.

This is especially worrying in the context of the post Brexit world.  The UK will be in a tough position trying to develop trade outside the EU.  We will not be in a position to exert any kind of influence on countries like Bahrain if we want to continue to sell them weapons.  There will be lip service of course and meaningless phrases from the prime minister and other ministers to assure us that persuasion has been applied to improve human rights.  The reality is we will have to accept what’s on offer and be thankful for it.  In the context of the Gulf states for example, we export more to them than to China, a situation unlikely to change anytime soon.

Ministers cannot quite bring themselves to say that in reality, there is little they can do and often little they want to do.  We must remember also the ‘revolving door’ through which ministers, senior civil servants and top military brass, pass to secure lucrative directorships with the very companies doing the deals in countries like Bahrain.  There is little incentive to upset the apple cart.

See also College of Policing.


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UK government’s role in the abuse of people in Bahrain revealed

The Observer newspaper on 14 August 2016 contained revelations about the UK government’s role in training the police force in Bahrain which has a reputation for ruthlessly suppressing public protest and dissent.  The newspaper has been able to obtain a confidential agreement signed on 14 June this year, by the UK’s College of Policing and Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior.

It is alleged that this is a commercial arrangement between the two organisations which somehow omits any mention of human rights.  The College of Policing’s site is full of stuff about ethics and integrity and says:

We are committed to ensuring that the Code of Ethics is not simply another piece of paper, poster or laminate, but is at the heart of every policy, procedure, decision and action in policing.

The code itself is 23 pages long.  The College has earned £8.5m from its international word since its formation in 2012.  The Home Affairs Select Committee has criticised the College for its ‘opaque’ affairs and it has taken a leak to enable us to see some of the details of what was agreed.

At one level there is an argument that encouraging police officers to work in the country to raise standards is perfectly acceptable.  If by a combination of training and encouragement they are able over time to reduce the incidence of poor treatment, people denied lawyers and all the other things the Bahrain government is accused of, so much the better.  This is indeed the Foreign Office’s line.  However, there is much to improve – in the words of Human Rights Watch:

Bahrain’s human rights climate remains highly problematic. The country’s courts convict and imprison peaceful dissenters and have failed to hold officials accountable for torture and other serious rights violations. There is evidence that the security forces continue to use disproportionate force to quell unrest.  Human rights activists and members of the political opposition face arrest and prosecution and dozens have been stripped of their citizenship. Bahrain restricts freedom of speech, and has jailed and fined Bahraini photographers. Migrant workers in Bahrain endure serious abuses such as unpaid wages, passport confiscation, unsafe housing, excessive work hours, physical abuse and forced labor.

If on the other hand, the College is helping the security services in their various activities (with surveiilance and intercept techniques for example) then this is not an appropriate thing for them to do.  Their legitimacy has also been queried as they are set up as a company limited by guarantee.  DPG Law has queried whether the Home Office can outsource this kind of activity anyway.  Certainly, the trend recently by the UK government is to encourage business activities and to play down human rights concerns as it may offend countries which regularly violate them.  The absence of a human rights clause or statement in the contract is in line with this commercial approach.

The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy has today [15 August] written to Boris Johnson the Foreign Secretary:

NGO’s today sent an open letter to Boris Johnson, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, raising urgent concerns over the poor human rights record of Bahrain’s ambassador to the UK, and asking him to raise their concerns.

[They point out that] The ambassador, Sheikh Fawaz bin Mohammad Al Khalifa, is a member of the Bahraini royal family and formerly the president of the Information Affairs Authority (IAA), the state’s media regulator and home of state media channels and websites, including Bahrain TV and the Bahrain News Agency.

The full letter can be read here.

Al Khalifa, picture Wikipedia

This is a country where violence against peaceful protest, torture and other forms of mistreatment is the norm.  It appears a British agency is assisting the Bahrainis in their activities rather than seeking to help them reform since the human rights situation there is getting worse rather than better.  Even though the activity was commenced when our current Prime Minister Theresa May was the Home Secretary, let us hope that with the new broom in place, this dubious contract is ended.

Sources: Observer; Reuters


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