UK covered up intelligence training for Bahrain police, human rights group says

UK covered up intelligence training for Bahrain police, human rights group says
British authorities trained Bahrain’s police on how to gather intelligence on protesters and use crowd control techniques such as water cannon and dogs, and then covered up the scheme, according to human rights group Reprieve.

The UK government has repeatedly denied providing public order training to Bahrain. It says the £1 billion (US$1.23 billion) conflict, stability and security fund has never been used for any public order program within the Gulf state’s security forces.

It has been alleged, however, that the fund was used to pay for Bahrain’s chief of police, Tariq al-Hassan, and half a dozen other senior officers to travel to Belfast in August 2015 to learn how police in Northern Ireland deal with public protests.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) gave training on how to manage “large-scale public order issues in a human rights compliant fashion” which included use of cannons, dog handling and other public order tactics.

PSNI also shared its expertise on gathering intelligence ahead of demonstrations, Reprieve says.

Tariq and his deputies also visited Belfast in June 2014, which included a briefing on gathering “community intelligence” and human rights complaints systems. 

Dozens of demonstrators died during pro-democracy protests in Bahrain in 2011. The government banned rallies and gatherings the following year.

Amnesty International has warned the torture and ill treatment of detainees in the country is “common.”

Maya Foa, a director of Reprieve, says: “It is outrageous that the government has covered up this project, which risks supporting the execution of protesters in Bahrain.

“Bahrain is notorious for arresting, torturing and sentencing to death people involved in protests – such as Mohammed Ramadan, a father of three who is held on death row and faces execution at any moment.

“By training Bahrain’s police how to gather intelligence on protesters, there is a serious risk that Britain is helping them arrest and execute people who are guilty of nothing more than calling for reform.  It is scandalous that the government has sought to sweep this under the carpet.”

PSNI have strongly denied allegations that they provided the public order training, according to the Belfast Telegraph.

Alan Todd, its assistant chief constable, said police facilitated a delegation of Bahraini officers on a study visit in 2015, but “have never provided training to Bahrain police officers in Bahrain or Northern Ireland.”

He said the Bahraini officers were on a study visit “to observe globally recognized best practice in human rights public order policing.”

“As an organization recognized across the world for placing human rights at the center of policing, the PSNI are often asked to host study visits from international policing bodies.

“This is viewed as part of our responsibility to participate in the development of global policing standards.”

A Foreign Office official told the Times there was no attempt at a cover-up, and that the project was classified as “technical assistance” rather than public order.

“The study visit in August 2015 was to allow members of the Bahraini police to observe how [the Police Service of Northern Ireland] manages public order issues in a human rights compliant manner,” it said.

The Bahraini embassy in London denied torture and ill treatment were common in Bahrain.