. Britain's shameful, complicit silence over Bahrain’s executions | Ceasefire Magazine

Britain’s shameful, complicit silence over Bahrain’s executions Comment

On Saturday, Bahrain executed two political prisoners, Ali Al-Arab and Ahmed Al-Malali, amidst worldwide condemnation by politicians and human rights campaigners. The complicit silence of the UK government shows Britain has no respect for human rights, write Sam Walton and Eman Hashim.

New in Ceasefire, Politics - Posted on Monday, July 29, 2019 0:00 - 2 Comments


Human rights campaigners protesting outside the Bahraini Embassy in London on Friday 27/07/2017 (Credit: Sam Walton)

Despite international calls to halt the execution of two political prisoners, the Bahraini authorities on Saturday carried out the death penalty against Ali Mohamed Hakeem AlArab (25) and Ahmed Issa Ahmed Al-Malali (24) on Saturday (27 July) morning. While in custody, they were subjected to torture, including beatings and electric shocks. Both were forced to sign confessions while blindfolded and under torture, which were later used against them in court to convict them. The families of the two men received a call on Friday, summoning them to Jaw prison for a last minute ‘special visit’ to Alarab and Al-Malali, each separately, for which they had to undergo unusually extensive search and security checks. There have been reports that the presence of security officers and riot police had intensified at the prison, and that other prisoners were not allowed their regular phone calls and family visits. The visits were authorised under Article 330 of Bahrain’s Criminal Procedure Code, which grants the family and relatives of prisoners scheduled for execution one last visit on the day the execution is set to take place.


Alarab and Al-Malali were arrested on 9 February 2017 during a security operation. During his arrest, Al-Malali was struck by at least two bullets in his hand and had his leg broken. The bullets remained in his hand for 23 days before they were removed. In addition to being tortured, he was held incommunicado for a month and eventually forced into signing a false confession. He was charged with possession of firearms, membership of a terrorist cell and the alleged killing of a security officer. He was then sentenced to death in absentia.

Al-Arab was beaten during his arrest and transferred to the prison clinic in a wheelchair. He too was forced into signing a false confession while blindfolded, and was subjected to torture including electric shocks, severe beatings, and the removal of his toenails. He was charged with killing a police officer, firing on a security patrol and injuring one of its officers, assisting in an attempted prison escape, and possession of firearms.

They were tried in mass trials, alongside 58 other defendants, and had no access to legal representation until late in the proceedings. They were convicted and sentenced to death on 31 January 2018. After the men exhausted their options for judicial appeal, the Bahraini Court of Cassation upheld their sentences on 6 May 2019, yielding the final decision to the King who ratified it.

Convenient Timing

In an attempt to avoid scrutiny and dodge the attention of the international community, the Bahraini regime seems to have picked a convenient time to carry out the executions, as the UK, EU and US parliaments are all currently in recess. Several members of the British parliament and U.S. congress, as well as human rights organisations, had spoken out against this extreme measure, calling for the halt of the executions due to lack of due proceedings and torture allegation. Nevertheless, the deafening official silence from the governments seemed to be an unspoken greenlight for the Bahraini authorities to move forward with the executions.

It is no coincidence that this comes after a recent decision by the Trump administration to resume federal executions in the United States. Given the tight relationship between Bahrain and the U.S., it is no surprise that the Bahraini regime feels secure to proceed, knowing they have the support of the west, namely the UK and the US, and they are unlikely to be held accountable.

Three days ago, the House of Lords questioned the British government on UK taxpayers aid used to fund human rights abuses in Bahrain, to which the response was that the UK offers technical supports that takes into consideration the human rights situation.

Death penalty in Bahrain: An infamous record

This is not the first time that Bahraini authorities sentence individuals to death and then proceed to carry out the sentence. In January 2017, three men were executed by firing squad after a similar chronological series of events. All three men had been found guilty of planting a bomb which killed three policemen. The families of Abbas al-Samea, Ali al-Singace, and Sami Mushaima were also informed of a ‘special visit’ the day before their execution, amid intensified security.

International civil society had roundly condemned this week’s executions. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Reprieve and the UN Special Rapporteur On Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions have all issued statements condemning the Bahraini authorities’ actions. On Friday night, on the eve of the executions, a group of activists held a vigil outside the Bahraini embassy in London as one last urgent call upon the British government to exercise its leverage and pressure the Bahraini king to stop the executions.

The British-Bahraini: A Cosy Affair

The UK is Bahrain’s old colonial power and one of its closest allies. The two countries have a longstanding ‘friendship’, exemplified by £100m of arms sales since 2011, intelligence training, technical support, not to mention successive British governments turning a blind eye to gross violations of human rights. Indeed, King Hamad of Bahrain has openly spoken about how he wants to return to a relationship that is more like a colonial one. Just last year, Bahrain even paid for a new UK navy base in Bahrain – an extension of colonialism if there ever was one. Every year, the Queen hosts King Hamad at the Royal Windsor Horse Show, where they are photographed and present trophies together. Crucially for Bahrain’s rulers, mired in controversy over torture and repression, the Queen offers a vital plank of legitimacy.

Although the UK did raise initial concerns over the executions in 2017, as well as other issues such as press freedom and the revoking of citizenships of dissidents, the British government have been praising Bahrain for holding parliamentary elections and making, what they deem to be, ‘progress’ on the human rights front. Apart from a few infrequent and gentle words of chastisement, the UK has been silent.

The UK has invoked the age-old excuse of ‘engagement’ to justify its refusal to condemn Bahrain. For example, the UK pays for cameras in Bahraini prisons, officially to stop torture, but this simply means torture takes place around the corner, unseen by the cameras. It also pays for oversight bodies. On Wednesday, in the House of Lords, two peers questioned the UK Government over the independence of its human rights assessments of Bahrain, the failure of the country’s oversight bodies and the risk that UK taxpayers are funding the death penalty in the country. During the session, Lord Collins of Highbury said:

“The fact is that the verdict of the UN Committee Against Torture was that UK-funded human rights oversight bodies in Bahrain are not effective. UK taxpayers’ money is being used and leading to more executions [in Bahrain] than ever before.”

A condemnation from the UK would be enormously effective. King Hamad places so much value in his relationship with the UK that It probably would have stopped the executions. However, instead of using its leverage to secure a real impact, by either ending support for Bahrain’s rulers or making stronger public statements on the lack of reforms, the UK government has promised to continue to provide technical expertise in 2019.

That Bahrain is a state that routinely executes people after they have been tortured is a matter of record. By pandering to Bahrain’s despotic King Hamad’s murderous whims, and indeed legitimising the regime as much as they can, Britain has shown its complete lack of respect for basic human rights.

Sam Walton

Sam Walton is part of NetPol: The Network for Police Monitoring & Green & Black Cross and a Quaker. Right-wing reactionaries can troll him on twitter at @samwalton

Eman Hashim is a Bahraini human rights activist. The name is a pseudonym for their protection.


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