BRITAIN’S secretive work at a death-row jail in Bahrain is being challenged by international human rights group Reprieve.
The UK Foreign Office paid almost a million pounds last year to NI-CO Ltd, a company owned by the Northern Irish government, for projects with Bahrain which included training hundreds of prison guards. The company worked at a series of Bahraini jails that are renowned for torture, including Jau prison where death-row inmates are held.
Prisoners at Jau include Mohammed Ramadan, a father of three who was tortured into making a false confession which resulted in him being sentenced to death. However, NI-CO has refused to release details of its ‘liaisons’ with staff at these facilities, in response to a freedom of information request by Reprieve.
Now Reprieve has filed a complaint with the Information Commissioner arguing that the correspondence must be disclosed. The UK Foreign Office said in its most recent human rights report on Bahrain that ‘allegations of ill-treatment in detention continue’ and that it had concerns over the death penalty.
From 2015 to 2016, more than a dozen NI-CO training staff worked at Bahrain’s Jau, Hidd, Isa Town and Dry Dock prisons on ‘management and operational aspects’. The company has refused to release further details about its activities, claiming that disclosure would damage its ‘commercial interests’ and sour Britain’s bi-lateral relationship with Bahrain.
In its complaint, Reprieve argues that Bahraini authorities have been more transparent about this project than NI-CO, citing an official report which said that around 400 guards at Jau received training under the scheme.
The complaint notes that the Information Commissioner has previously ordered the release of information about custodial facilities where there was public concern about the treatment of detainees, even if it damaged someone’s commercial interests.
Earlier this year, Northern Ireland’s justice department disclosed emails from NI-CO about visits by Bahraini prison guards to the poorly performing Maghaberry jail, where they received instruction on ‘control and restraint training’, ‘incident management’ and drug detection.
Harriet McCulloch, deputy director of Reprieve’s death penalty team, said: ‘NI-CO needs to come clean over its work with Bahrain’s jail guards. The company is hiding details of its activities at Bahrain’s death row prison, where innocent father of three Mohammed Ramadan faces execution after he was tortured into a false confession.
‘NI-CO is owned by Stormont and its work in Bahrain is paid for by the UK Foreign Office, so it must be fully transparent about its dealings with a notorious prison system where torture is systematic.’
In its 2015/2016 annual report, Amnesty International said of Bahrain: ‘The government 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.’
Amnesty added: ‘In March, Bahrain joined the Saudi Arabia-led coalition that engaged in the armed conflict in Yemen. The authorities constructed new facilities in Dry Dock Prison to hold children aged 15 to 18, transferring 300 juvenile offenders from Jaw Prison to Dry Dock in May.
‘In June, the US government lifted its embargo on arms sales to the Bahrain National Guard and Bahrain Defence Forces, and in August approved a $150 million deal to supply military aircraft parts, ammunition and communications equipment to Bahrain.
‘A joint statement signed by 35 countries at the UN Human Rights Council in September expressed serious concern about human rights violations in Bahrain including imprisonment of those exercising their rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, and lack of accountability.’
Meanwhile, Bahrain and Kuwait have reiterated their grave concern about the passing of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) that allows US citizens to sue foreign governments and entities for damages resulting from acts of terrorism committed on US soil on or after September 11, 2001.
The act that removes the authority to determine whether a state is a sponsor of terrorism away from the federal government and places it in the hands of local courts was vetoed by US President Barack Obama, but Congress easily succeeded in overriding the veto.
Several countries have warned that the act was disastrous and would have ruinous effects on international relations and ultimately world stability. Addressing the second Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD) summit in the Thai Capital Bangkok under the theme ‘One Asia – Diverse Strengths’, Bahrain’s Prime Minister Prince Khalifa Bin Salman Al Khalifa said that the act was a menace to sustainable development.
In his speech on Monday, he said: ‘This summit is taking place at a time when sustainable development is at the forefront of the global agenda. However, the achievement of sustainable development requires maintaining security and stability and no negative impacts on such efforts.
‘The legislation of laws such as JASTA contravenes the principles of equal sovereignty of states and sovereign immunity. This calls for our joint cooperation to ensure the security and stability of our countries and for establishing a strong economy which provides support for our programmes to achieve sustainable development.’
Kuwait’s Emir Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah said in his address to the summit that the international covenants and charters had to be respected in order to ‘safeguard homelands and promote communities’, describing Jasta as a breach.
He said: ‘We ought to respect our covenants and treaties and seek to resolve our differences peacefully to present to the world an ideal sample with respect of international dealing that may safeguard our homelands and promotion of our communities.
‘We ought to defend international covenants and charters that govern our world, where JASTA, recently endorsed in the United States of America, constitutes a violation of such treaties, a breach of their rules and a harm to everybody’s interests.’
l The Bahrain feudalists are out to tighten their grip on the press and media. The Gulf kingdom is to set up a communication centre tasked with unifying the government narrative and institutionalising official media-related work.
The National Communication Centre (NCC) will have a significant role in informing citizens and residents of government plans and initiatives and in establishing relationships with local, regional and international media outlets, the cabinet said in a statement last Monday following its weekly session.
‘The cabinet agreed to take the constitutional procedures of the draft decree to establish and regulate the National Communication Centre,’ the statement said. No date was given about when the NCC would be launched, but Information Affairs Minister Ali Al Romaihi said that the centre would become operational soon after a royal decree is issued regarding its establishment and regulation as a government body affiliated with the information minister.
‘The centre will be in charge of promoting integration and coordination between ministries and government bodies by mapping out strategies of government media narrative and monitoring their execution and development’ he said in a statement carried by Bahrain News Agency (BNA).
The centre will be made up of directorates tasked with monitoring, analyses, digital media, communication, media relations and strategic planning. The NCC will work on building strong and influential relations with the foreign media by taking the initiative in elucidating the truth through coordination with relevant parties.
‘It will also work on unifying national efforts in handling emergencies and crises as well as countering false and defamatory campaigns,’ said Al Romaihi who was given the information portfolio in March.