UK broke own rules by funding Bahrain despite unjustified death penalties: Rights groups

Bahrain’s Crown Prince and Prime Minister Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa departs 10 Downing Street on June 17, 2021 (File photo by Anadolu Agency)

The UK government appears to have breached its own guidelines by providing millions in funding to Bahrain despite a report finding that eight men were sentenced to death in the kingdom without any physical evidence, according to human rights groups.

A report released on October 10 documented the case of eight men currently on death row in the kingdom solely or in large part on confessions that Bahraini authorities forced them to make through torture and ill-treatment.

The report, from the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (Bird) and Human Rights Watch, found that Bahraini prosecutors and courts failed to “genuinely investigate” the men’s allegations of torture and ill-treatment or take independent medical evidence seriously before they were sentenced to death.

“Do I think the government has breached its own rules? All the evidence would suggest yes,” said Lord Scriven, vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Democracy and Human Rights in the Gulf, during a panel discussion in parliament on Tuesday, according to Middle East Eye.

The report implicates three Bahraini institutions which receive funding from the UK’s Gulf Strategy Fund, namely Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Interior Ombudsman and the Special Investigation Unit.

Critics say the UK government, with its support to Bahrain, has violated its own Overseas Security and Justice Assistance guidelines, which say the government should seek written assurances that “anyone found guilty would not face the death penalty” before agreeing to provide support.

The guidelines also say that “the case should automatically be deemed ‘High Risk’ and FCO Ministers should be consulted.”

Meanwhile, Joshua Colangelo-Bryan, a lawyer with the New York-based law firm Dorsey and Whitney and an HRW consultant, argued that the charges brought against the eight men were solely based on statements given by people in custody and lacked any physical evidence.

“We don’t see fingerprints. We don’t see DNA linking a defendant to a crime scene. There are no CCTV videos showing a defendant doing something in particular. We don’t have independent eyewitness accounts,” he said. 

Colangelo-Bryan said all of the men claim that officers beat them using fists, while seven said their genitals were specifically targeted with punches, kicks or electric shocks.

They were also faced with sleep deprivation, threats to harm their relatives, including threats of rape, and officers using a metal bar and chair to suspend them off the ground. 

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