The Guardian: British Police Criticised for Lack of Transparency in Bahrain Training Deal
2016-08-30 - 3:12 p
Bahrain Mirror: Human rights campaigners say British College of Policing should explain its work with a country like Bahrain accused of numerous human rights abuses, reported The Guardian.
"British police have been criticised for refusing to release details of an international deal to train security officials from Bahrain, a country accused of a litany of human rights abuses," the paper noted.
The daily London-based newspaper stressed that "human rights campaigners have said the College of Policing (CoP), which sets standards for UK officers and offers worldwide training courses, should be compelled to explain their work in countries with poor records on civil liberties."
"The concerns come less than two months after MPs criticised the "totally unacceptable" opacity around the college's provision of training to Saudi Arabia," it added.
The body was set up by the prime minister, Theresa May, during her time at the Home Office and provides the courses in accordance with Foreign Office guidance.
Last month, members of the home affairs select committee said greater transparency was needed, and criticised the then foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, for avoiding the public scrutiny of deals with unsavoury regimes.
"The Foreign Office should not hide behind any relationship with foreign governments under the guise of ‘commercial sensitivity'," they said. However, human rights groups have now claimed the CoP continues to cite similar concerns in refusing to divulge details of its dealings with Bahrain.
The Guardian further highlighted that in a recent response to a freedom of information request submitted by the campaign group Reprieve, the college gave a broad outline of the courses it had offered officials from the country's interior ministry each year since 2013 and confirmed it had seconded staff to Bahrain in that time.
But it refused to go into "details of the specific nature of [its] work" with the country, which has been accused of using torture to extort confessions from prisoners. The college cited concerns over "commercial interests", "international relations" and "law enforcement" - all exemptions allowed for by freedom of information laws - as justification.
"It also gave the top-line amounts of money it has received for providing training to foreign countries, confirming half of the £8.6m it made between 2013 and 2015 came from countries in the Middle East and north Africa, but refused to offer a more specific breakdown," said the paper.
"The college refused to say which countries had paid which sums, citing fears around preserving international relations and commercial interests."
"The college's culture of secrecy around international training must end now," said Maya Foa, the director of Reprieve's death penalty team.
"[It] must come clean about its business in Bahrain, where prisoners like Mohammed Ramadan face execution for ‘confessions' obtained under torture, and the human rights situation gets worse by the day," she added.
Ramadan is an opponent of the government who was sentenced to death for his alleged part in the killing of a policeman. It has been claimed he was arrested without a warrant and tortured. While Ramadan did not confess, his alleged accomplice did, leading to Ramadan's condemnation.
Foa added that Reprieve had found the CoP was "teaching CSI skills that it admits could lead to suspects being arrested and tortured" in Saudi Arabia.
Reprieve's criticisms were echoed by the campaign group Index on Censorship, which said it was "extremely worried" about the secrecy surrounding the relationship with Bahrain.
Index's deputy chief executive, Rachael Jolley, said the country's "record on human rights and openness should be challenged by the UK government".
She added: "Index agrees with the home affairs select committee's recent recommendation that: ‘To ensure that there is proper transparency and accountability, the college must be open about the nature of the international work that it provides.'"
Jolley said the Foreign Office and CoP should be required to get a written guarantee that training will not aid operations "deemed unethical by the UK government".
"Bahrain is a country that has previously ordered the 15-day detention of a poet, and which last year stripped 72 people of their citizenship - including journalists and bloggers - for simply voicing their criticism of the current regime," she said.
"Rajab is currently facing prison on charges of spreading ‘false or malicious news, statements, or rumours', evidence of which includes a retweet of an Index tweet; ‘offending a foreign country' through tweeted criticism of Saudi Arabia's involvement in Yemen; and ‘offending a statutory body' by condemning conditions in the country's notorious Jau prison."
"Earlier this month, the Observer revealed that an agreement signed by the CoP and Bahrain's interior ministry set out the commercial ground on which their relationship would be built but omitted any mention of human rights issues," The Guardian noted.
A Foreign Office spokesman repeated the statement given to the Observer, saying: "It is not good enough to merely criticise other countries from the sidelines. Only by working with Bahrain are we able to bring about the changes we would like to see in the country.
"The UK is working closely with the government of Bahrain to provide extensive reform assistance focused on strengthening human rights and the rule of law. We see this support as the most constructive way to achieve long-lasting and sustainable reform in Bahrain."
The spokesman added: "While it will take time to see the full results of much of this work, the UK is having a direct impact on areas of concern."
The college of policing said it submits all proposals for international work to a government body that considers human rights issues before giving the go-ahead.
"There are a number of reasons why we do not disclose details about overseas training or costs, where to do so could expose vulnerabilities that can be exploited by criminals or put at risk British citizens deployed overseas," a spokesman said.
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