Hotel bellboy faces death sentence despite £5m in UK aid to stop torture of prisoners in Bahrain

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An MP has described as a ‘sick joke’ that £5million of UK aid to stop prisoners being tortured into confession in Bahrain has failed to halt the imminent execution of a man beaten while being hung from the ceiling.

Taxpayers’ money is being spent on a UK-trained Special Investigations Unit (SIU) in the Gulf state which is supposed to look into claims of mistreatment.

However, hotel bellboy Maher al-Khabbaz has been sentenced to death despite claims he was hospitalised at the end of a five-day torture ordeal.

Hotel bellboy Maher al-Khabbaz, pictured with a friend's daughter, has been sentenced to death despite claims he was hospitalised at the end of a five-day torture ordeal 

Hotel bellboy Maher al-Khabbaz, pictured with a friend’s daughter, has been sentenced to death despite claims he was hospitalised at the end of a five-day torture ordeal 

During his imprisonment Al-Khabbaz, 34, was:

  • beaten with their fists, metal wires and sticks;
  • hung from the ceiling in handcuffs while policy officers kicked him in the stomach and chest;
  • held in painful stress positions where his hands and soles of his feet were beaten;
  • forced to stand for days, doused with water and blindfolded for long periods;
  • forbidden from eating, praying or using the bathroom;
  • forced to sign a false confession at gunpoint.

Al-Khabbaz was arrested in 2013 after a police officer was killed with a flare gun at a pro-democracy demonstration.

Despite having an alibi saying he was at work at the time and no other evidence against him, he was still sentenced to death earlier this year and could be brought before a firing squad any day.

The human rights charity, Reprieve, submitted a complaint in July but did not receive a reply until the end of last month when it was contacted by the Bahrain Embassy in London.

Maher al-Khabbaz was arrested in 2013 after a police officer was killed with a flare gun at a pro-democracy demonstration, but had an alibi to say he was at work. Despite this he was tortured and forced to confess at gunpoint

Maher al-Khabbaz was arrested in 2013 after a police officer was killed with a flare gun at a pro-democracy demonstration, but had an alibi to say he was at work. Despite this he was tortured and forced to confess at gunpoint

Maher al-Khabbaz was arrested in 2013 after a police officer was killed with a flare gun at a pro-democracy demonstration, but had an alibi to say he was at work. Despite this he was tortured and forced to confess at gunpoint

The Bahrainis said an investigation had been carried out and found no evidence of mistreatment.

This was despite no one involved in the case, including Maher himself, his lawyers or any medical witnesses, being aware a review had taken place.

Lib Dem MP Tom Brake, the party’s spokesman on international trade, said:

‘Despite over £5 million having been invested by the UK government since 2012 to improve the justice system and the general human rights climate in Bahrain, you would be hard pressed to see evidence that cash has helped people like Maher al-Khabbaz.

‘Until credible progress is made it is a sick joke that taxpayer’s money is being spent so wilfully with little discernible improvement in the treatment of prisoners.

Al Khabbaz was hung from the ceiling in handcuffs, beaten, forced to stand for days, doused with water and blindfolded for long periods and forbidden from eating, praying or using the bathroom

Al Khabbaz was hung from the ceiling in handcuffs, beaten, forced to stand for days, doused with water and blindfolded for long periods and forbidden from eating, praying or using the bathroom

Al Khabbaz was hung from the ceiling in handcuffs, beaten, forced to stand for days, doused with water and blindfolded for long periods and forbidden from eating, praying or using the bathroom

‘When looking at Bahrain we are clearly witnessing flagrantly illegal executions taking place and it is profoundly concerning that when challenged by these cases the UK encourages complainants to approach Bahraini oversight bodies who have received training funded by the UK government but are independent in little more than name’.

Under the programme, the Foreign Office funded the training of Bahraini security officials, police and prison officers in the aftermath of the Arab Spring which led to a wave of pro-democracy demonstrations.

The authorities launched a brutal clampdown blaming Iran for being behind the protests and the number of people facing the death penalty trebled.

Lib Dem MP Tom Brake, the party’s spokesman on international trade, called the situation - with Britain spending taxpayers money on a system that was not suceeding in helping tortured prisoners a 'sick joke' and condemned Bahrain's 'flagrantly illegal executions'

Lib Dem MP Tom Brake, the party’s spokesman on international trade, called the situation - with Britain spending taxpayers money on a system that was not suceeding in helping tortured prisoners a 'sick joke' and condemned Bahrain's 'flagrantly illegal executions'

Lib Dem MP Tom Brake, the party’s spokesman on international trade, called the situation – with Britain spending taxpayers money on a system that was not suceeding in helping tortured prisoners a ‘sick joke’ and condemned Bahrain’s ‘flagrantly illegal executions’

Among the UK groups working in Bahrain are HM Inspectorate of Prisons and Northern Ireland Co-operation Overseas (NI-CO), a non-profit organisation owned by the Northern Irish government.

As well as the SIU, a torture ombudsman was also set up by NI-CO which Reprieve claims has covered up forced confessions and abuse, with protestors raped and tortured in a prison receiving NI-CO training.

Last month two men, Husain Moosa and Mohamed Ramadhan, had their death sentences quashed after the authorities accepted that the only evidence against them were confessions extracted by torture, and the pair now face a re-trial.

Reprieve is now calling for the suspension of aid for the SIU and ombudsman until a proper review is carried out.

(Reprieve) Director, Maya Foa, said: ‘Bahrain must immediately stay Maher’s execution. Many people would question why the UK is funding Bahrain’s criminal justice bodies at all, but if we are to spend millions of pounds on ‘security assistance’, transparency about what we’re paying for is essential.

Mohamed Ramadhan (L) had his death sentence quashed after the authorities accepted that the only evidence against him was a confessions extracted by torture

Mohamed Ramadhan (L) had his death sentence quashed after the authorities accepted that the only evidence against him was a confessions extracted by torture

Mohamed Ramadhan (L) had his death sentence quashed after the authorities accepted that the only evidence against him was a confessions extracted by torture

‘We urgently need stronger human rights risk assessments to ensure that British taxpayers don’t end up enabling torture and the death penalty’.

Critics says the existence of the UK-trained bodies has only served to lend credibility to Bahrain in the sphere of human rights, but the government maintains it is keeping up the pressure on the country.

A Foreign Office spokesman said:’ The UK is firmly opposed to the death penalty. It is the Government’s longstanding position to oppose all capital sentences in all circumstances and countries. 

‘We continue to make this clear to the Government of Bahrain. We continue to follow the case of Maher al-Khabbaz and, where we have concerns, we raise them at senior level with the Government of Bahrain’.



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