Posts Tagged ‘Bahrain’


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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The latest death penalty report covering the period 13 January to 9 February is attached and thanks to group member Lesley for compiling it.  The report notes that many of the countries which feature in the report have close links with the UK as we have described in previous posts.

Death penalty report (pdf)

Reggie Clemons (picture Amnesty USA)

Reggie Clemons (picture Amnesty USA)


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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College of Policing in fresh controversy

Updated : 23 November

The College of Policing is involved in fresh controversy today concerning their training of police in countries that regularly use torture.  In the summer it was revealed that they had training large numbers of Saudi and Bahraini police and that this training has aided them to arrest protestors who were then tortured.

On the BBC’s World at One radio programme there was an interview with a woman who’s husband had been arrested and disappeared for a month.  She alleges he was “subjected to the worst kind of physical and psychological abuse”, they beat him brutally and concentrated these beatings on his genitals.

Reprieve has published a report detailing the allegations against Mohammed Ramadan.  It now appears that the release of the information and documents about the College of Police’s activities was not meant to have happened and was as a result of ‘human error.’  From now on, details of the College’s activities will not be disclosed.

The Foreign Office maintains that the best way to improve human rights in these countries is by engagement and that we should not criticize from the sidelines.  Crispin Blunt MP, chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee said:

Human rights assessments are quite bleak [in these countries] and it is going to reinforce the arguments of those who are against engagement

Quit so.  So the worse it is, the better the justification for our engagement.  This might be fine of course if by ‘engagement’, there was some kind of visible or tangible improvement.  But it seems our involvement makes matters worse not better.  As Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at Reprieve comments on their website:

It is scandalous that British police are training Saudi Arabian and Bahraini officers in techniques which they privately admit could lead to people being arrested, tortured and sentenced to death

Earlier in the year, the Home Affairs select committee strongly criticised the College of Policing and the secretive way they had gone about this work.  The Chief executive had apparently been told by the Foreign and Colonial Office not to answer questions for reasons of commercial confidentiality and security.

The argument that closer integration with unpleasant regimes yields positive benefits could have some merit.  If by trading, cultural contacts, training schemes, and other contacts – social or economic – good behaviour (however defined)  rubs off onto the regime then that can be claimed as a benefit.

But the suspicion with the College of Policing and other commercial activities in the region, is that it is profit and money driven with little more than lip-service given to ethics and human rights.  It is all of a piece with our arms sales to the Saudis which are causing such devastation in Yemen.

One would have expected that the College of Policing of all organisations, to have ethics and human rights at the top of their agenda.  The police have some ground to make up following a number of scandals like Hillsborough.  Helping repressive regimes to be more efficiently repressive hardly fits the bill.  Making it secret is a tacit admission that they have something to hide.

Sources: Sputnik; The Guardian; Reprieve; World at One (BBC)


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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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Playhouse event

UPDATE: Piece in the Salisbury Journal

On Monday, June 15, celebrated actor Edward Fox will read extracts from Magna Carta at Salisbury Playhouse as part of a panel discussion investigating the relevance of the historic document today.

We are pleased to announce an event at Salisbury Playhouse called Magna Carta Now on 15 June at

Edward Fox

Edward Fox

2pm.  It will involve Edward Fox OBE who will read parts of the Magna Carta and there will be a panel discussion on the relevance of these readings in the politics today.

The event is particularly relevant in view of the announcement by the new government of their plans to scrap the Human Rights Act (or the ‘hated’ Human Rights Act as some would say), details of which are expected in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech on 27th.  We have waited several years now for the promised British Bill of Rights which we understand from press comment has gone through at least 8 drafts but has still not been published.

The panel is a distinguished one:

  • Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty UK
  • Prof Guy Standing, author of among other writings The Precariat and A Precariat Charter
  • Ben Rawlence, from Salisbury, who has been a country representative for Human Rights Watch and is author of Radio Congo

Tickets are available from Salisbury Playhouse www.salisburyplayhouse.com (24 hours) or phone 01722 320333 or at the Playhouse itself.

We hope local Amnesty supporters and others will come along to what promises to be an interesting event.  We should add that there will be an opportunity for audience participation at the end of the event.


Please find below the minutes of the March meeting thanks to Karen.

March minutes


texas executionThis month’s #deathpenalty report is attached thanks to Lesley.  It makes depressing reading especially concerning countries in South East Asia and #Pakistan.

Report