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UK's relations with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain (further written evidence)

Written evidence from Bahrain Watch

Summary

1 This submission provides written evidence on the role and activities of British companies and consultants exporting goods and services either directly or indirectly to the Bahraini security services. It highlights the role such companies and persons are likely to have played in the state's repression of pro-democracy activists and protesters over at least the past 18 months.

2 This submission falls under the inquiry's interest in ‘how the UK can encourage democratic and liberalising reforms in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, including its power to effect improvements’. Given the extent to which British companies are in the unique position of providing procured services to the Saudi and Bahraini governments, this submission highlights how British companies are often acting in opposition to effecting democratic improvements.

3 Despite the fact David Cameron has stated, "Bahrain is not Syria", activists have accused the United Kingdom of being to Bahrain what Russia is to Syria. This is in reference to the immense military, logistical, and intelligence cooperation between the two. This submission intends to shed light on the wide spectrum of military, logistical and legal support that the Bahraini regime receives from the United Kingdom.

4 The submission is organised into four sections

Section 1: the export of arms

Section 2: the export of PR services

Section 3: the export of surveillance technology

Section 4: the export of security and legal services (dogs, police units, police advisors)

Introduction

5 Bahrain has witnessed an unprecedented period of sustained popular mobilisation as part of the social, political and economic upheaval in many countries in the Arab World.

6 Bahrain Watch is an independent research and advocacy group that seeks to promote effective, transparent and accountable governance in Bahrain. It is led by independent researchers inside and outside Bahrain and focuses on evidence-based advocacy in the areas of political reform, economic development, and security. Founded in March 2011, Bahrain Watch is an entirely voluntary collaborative project. It receives no outside funding and all expenses are paid for by its members. The current members of Bahrain Watch are Bill Marczak, Ala'a Shehabi, Fahad Desmukh, Marc Owen Jones, and John Horne. You can read more at www.bahrainwatch.org

7 Bahrain Watch’s work so far has included research into: assessing the Bahraini government’s claims of implementing reforms; monitoring Western public relations companies working for the Bahraini government; and investigating arms and ammunition used by Bahraini security forces in suppressing the popular protest movement. The findings of the above research projects form the basis of the evidence we are submitting here.

Section 1: the export of arms

(Lead expert: Bill Marczak)

Summary

8 The Foreign and Commonwealth Office's (FCO) annual Human Rights and Democracy report report states that the Arab Spring has the potential to become "the greatest gain for human rights and freedom since the end of the Cold War," but warns that if the Arab Spring fails, the result may be "dangerous instability" and "reversion to more authoritarian regimes." [1] UK arms exports to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, from before the Arab Spring until the present day, potentially risk this dangerous instability warned of by the FCO.

Factual information

9 In March 2011, Saudi troops entered Bahrain in UK-origin BAE Tactica armored vehicles. Saudi troops apparently guarded infrastructure in Bahrain, while Bahrain’s army was deployed on the streets to prevent protests. [2]

10 A number of UK companies sought export licenses in 2010, including NSAF Ltd, the UK arm of Heckler & Koch. [3] Bahraini troops were seen carrying weapons that looked similar to H&K MP5 submachine guns in March 2011. [4] In response to the Bahraini government’s ongoing crackdown, the UK revoked some arms export licenses in February 2011. [5] However, the Campaign Against Arms Trade reported that sales to Bahrain were "back to business as usual" by June of that year. [6] As of 27 March 2012, extant export control licenses to Bahrain included those to export pistols, shotguns, small arms ammunition, assault rifles, and sniper rifles. [7]

11 Birdshot bearing the logos of three UK companies has been identified, based on pictures posted by activists of shotgun cartridges said used in the suppression of protests. A significant number of #2 and #8 birdshot cartridges bearing the logo of UK company Gamebore have been found in Bahrain. [8] In response to a Parliamentary question, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State Alistair Burt stated that: "no UK licenses have been issued to Gamebore Cartridge Company for Bahrain for the last 10 years." [9] Several cartridges of various pellet sizes bearing the words "Eley Alphamax" have been spotted in Bahrain over the past months; the "Alphamax" is a cartridge manufactured by UK-based Eley Hawk Ltd. A close-up photo of one of the cartridges bears the words "Made in England." [10] Earlier this year, a cartridge bearing the words "Pro-One International Trap" was spotted in Bahrain. The "Pro-One International Trap" is a product of UK-based Hull Cartridge, and is designed for olympic trap shooting. [11] Fourteen protesters have died of birdshot wounds [12] , and many more have been injured.

12 Some tear gas used in Bahrain is manufactured by US-based Federal Laboratories. [13] The company is owned by US-based Armor Holdings [14] , which is owned by UK-based BAE. [15] Physicians for Human Rights has compiled a list of 34 reported tear gas deaths in Bahrain. [16]

Section 2: the export of PR services

(Lead experts: Fahad Desmukh, Marc Owen Jones)

Summary

13 Bahrain Watch has documented the activities of ten British PR companies that have been procured by Bahraini government agencies directly or indirectly to bolster the international image of the regime.

14 Despite relatively limited coverage in the Western media, international reporting on Bahrain after the February 2011 protests shone a spotlight on the Government's darker side, including torture, police abuse and sectarian discrimination. The media coverage also focused on the concentration of political power in the ruling family and its allies. With its carefully-cultivated facade of tolerance and progressivism under threat, the government of Bahrain employed a number of American and British public relations (PR) and PR-related firms to try to stem the tide of international criticism.

Factual information

15 Using publicly available documentation, Bahrain Watch has calculated that the Bahrain government has spent or allocated at least US$ 30 million (nearly £19 million) on the services of at least seven different London-based ‘PR’ companies since the start of pro-democracy protests last February. Bahrain Watch also believe that three more companies are indirectly hired by the Bahraini government. The ongoing goal of the project, "PR Watch" is to monitor and document the activities of each public relations companies that may be associated with the Government of Bahrain.

16 The names of the ten London-based companies on this list and the values of the contracts that they have received, are as follows:

Name

Location

Spent or Allocated

Since February 2011

Bell Pottinger

London

$12,089,645

Big Tent Communications

London

0†

Cloud Media Entertainment

London

$50,000

Dragon Associates

London

0†

G3

London

$2,370,000

Gardant Communications

London

0†

Mark Stewart Productions

London

$397,500

M&C Saatchi

London

$15,226,380

New Century Media

London

$158,000

Olton

London

$245,523

TOTAL

$30,537,048

(approx £24,500,000)

† Data unavailable

Details about each company’s work for the Government of Bahrain and links to source documents can be found at < http://bahrainwatch.org/pr/ >

17 Among the ten British firms hired are some of the biggest names in Western PR, such as London-based Bell Pottinger and M&C Saatchi. Both have been previously criticised for PR contracts with other repressive governments. Other companies, such as Olton, blur the line between ‘reputation management’ and ‘intelligence gathering’.

18 In general, the activities undertaken by PR companies on behalf of the Bahraini government include:

Writing and placing op-ed pieces supporting the Government in Western media outlets, while exerting legal pressure on outlets that publish critical pieces

Contacting Western journalists about the political situation in Bahrain

Creating seemingly independent websites and social media accounts to influence public opinion

Arranging meetings with influential Western government officials

Exerting legal pressure on news outlets who distribute negative coverage of their client.

19 In general, activities by PR companies seek to promote the following myths about Bahrain's political situation:

The country is not ruled by an autocrat, but by an enlightened monarchy shepherding its subjects towards democracy;

The opposition protesters are duplicitous, and despite calling for democracy, are actually backed by Iran and want to impose a Shia theocracy;

Any violence carried out by security forces against protesters is always only in reaction to violence carried out by protesters, labelled as "terrorists" or "vandals";

Torture and police abuse is not systematic, but is the result of just a few bad apples rather than the orders of any senior officials;

The government has made amends for any mistakes it made last year.

20 The findings of the PR Watch project contradict a statement made by Bahrain's Minister of State for Information in July 2012, in which she characterized claims that the government has hired Western public relations companies as "one of the fabrications among the fabrications of the Opposition to tarnish the image of Bahrain."

21 The "dark arts" of PR often oversteps the fine line between ‘marketing’ and outright distortion of a story under the pretext of "reputation management" services. We believe that it is unethical for the British government to allow the unregulated PR industry to offer such services to any repressive government, not just Bahrain. Similar to the US model, British companies should be required to declare the nature of their activities procured by foreign governments, and disclose any payments they receive.

Section 3: the export of surveillance technology

22 [***]

Section 4: the export of other security and legal services

(Lead expert: Dr Ala'a Shehabi)

Summary

23 Bahrain Watch believes that the ongoing role of British companies, consultants and advisors in providing direct services to the internal security & judicial mechanisms of the Bahraini government creates the perception of complicity in ongoing repression and human rights violations, and the perception that the British Government is not a neutral party in the conflict.

Factual information

Name

Location

Spent or paid

Since February 2011

Top Dog Security

UK

$55,000.00

Forensic detectives, Met police

UK

unknown

John Yates

UK/Bahrain

unknown

Sir Jeffrey Jowell

UK

unknown

Sir David Bethlehem

UK

unknown

24 According to Top Dog Security's website, the firm was hired in 2007 to be "responsible, as per our contract, to provide day-to-day management of all dog section issues from administration to operational deployment and to conduct "controlled exercises" with the Ministry of Interior." [1] During the crackdown that began in March 2011, there have been reports of Ministry of Interior dogs used during violent raids in homes. [2]

25 Several British consultants have been hired by the Bahraini government to assist with judicial and security reforms recommended in the report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI). However, a year after the November 2011 publication of the Commission’s report, NGOs including the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights [3] and the Project on Middle East Democracy [4] have issued reports concluding that few meaningful reforms among the government’s pledges have been implemented. These reports point to ongoing cases of excessive force, torture, incommunicado detentions and excessive use of tear gas as a form of collective punishment. In one well publicised case, uniformed police officers appear to assist looters in ransacking a supermarket in April 2012. [5] The supermarket chain was alleged to have provided free food to anti-government protesters while they were camping out at the Pearl Roundabout in 2011, a charge denied by the CEO. [6] These ongoing abuses are despite the Ministry of Interior hiring former London Metropolitan police chief John Yates in December 2011 to help with security-sector reform.

26 Yates has made several comments seemingly in support of the Government’s position. In one instance, he stated of protests in villages in Bahrain: "This isn’t organized protests, it’s just vandalism, rioting on the streets … Acts of wanton damage that are destroying the economy." [7] Writing to F1 executive Jean Todt before Bahrain’s 2012 Formula One race, he said that social media was showing a "distorted picture" of the situation in Bahrain, and that he felt "completely safe. Indeed, safer than I have often felt in London." [8]

27 Protests intensified during the race, and an unarmed protester was shot in the back at close range by police. His body was discovered on a rooftop. [9] In an op-ed published in The Telegraph after Bahrain’s F1, Yates reiterated government claims of "substantial progress" on reform, and claimed that the Bahrain Police Chief was committed to investigating the death of the protester. [10] As of the date of this submission, no results of an independent investigation have been published, and Bahrain Watch is unaware of any police officers that have been prosecuted for his death.

28 Several British and Japanese journalists were also detained during the Formula 1 race. This included a team from Channel 4: Jonathan Miller, cameraman Joe Sheffer, and producer Dave Fuller, as well as British-Bahraini, and Bahrain Watch founding member, Dr Ala'a Shehabi, who also witnessed the police beating their Bahraini driver during arrest.

29 Strong criticism has been directed at Yates for his role and the comments he has made on policing in Bahrain. In his aforementioned Telegraph editorial, he claimed that Bahrain was "bewildered by the world's hostility" and said the country "is not Syria". He also added: "The abiding image I have of the Grand Prix last weekend was of thousands of people enjoying themselves at the postevent parties." Mehdi Hassan of the New Statesmen criticised Yates’s view of the situation in Bahrain:

‘If Yates really believes Bahrain is "safe" and that the protesters are "vandals", then perhaps he should venture out of his plush, air-conditioned office inside of the interior ministry in Manama and go and speak with the family of 22-year-old Ahmed Ismail, who bled to death last month after being shot by government loyalists at a rally’

30 Yates accompanied Bahrain's Interior Minister on a visit to London to hold private talks with British officials in July 2012. Yates may have facilitated these talks given his previous authoritative role in the Met. The Daily Mail reported on October 24 2012: "During a demonstration about human rights abuses outside the Bahrain embassy in London, he called Scotland Yard’s press bureau from the Middle East asking whether any protesters had climbed on to the roof of the building. He also asked who was in charge of the policing operation at the embassy. He was told but he did not contact the officer." [11]

31 On January 4 2012, Bahrain's Information Affairs Authority announced the appointment of two British lawyers to assist the Government of Bahrain in implementing some recommendations in the BICI report: Sir Daniel Bethlehem KCMG QC, and Sir Jeffrey Jowell QC, Emeritus Professor of Public Law at University College London. The government announcement said that "Sir Daniel and Sir Jeffrey will be responsible for advising on a number of important accountability mechanisms, including establishing a national watchdog to bring to justice police officers responsible for torture, death or mistreatment of civilians. The Government has pledged that the recommendations of the BICI will be implemented by the end of February."

32 Since January, Bahrain has seen few reforms in the areas of justice and accountability:

Bahrain Watch is only aware of a single officer convicted of torture, though torture was found by the BICI to be both "systematic" and "systemic."

The majority of the 60 cases documented by forensic doctors in the BICI report, still remain in prison along with up to 1000 political detainees.

In the case regarding the torture of France 24 journalist Nazeeha Saeed, the only accused police officer was acquitted by the court on October 22.

Sentences have been upheld for opposition leaders that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say were only expressing their right to free expression.

A judge upheld the convictions against 9 doctors, 6 of whom have been re-arrested, and two teachers, one of whom was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment and the other female teacher was rearrested.

A judge sentenced one of the most prominent Bahraini human rights activists, Nabeel Rajab, to 3 years imprisonment for calling for protests.

A judge sentenced the head of the Bahrain Teachers Society (defacto union), Mahdi Abudheeb for 5 years on appeal for calling for a national strike.

Bahrain Watch is not aware of any torture victim who has received compensation, despite claims that a compensation fund has been set up.

33 Ian Henderson, a British security advisor, has been in Bahrain since the 1960s. His senior role during the uprising that took place during the 1990s in Bahrain is well-documented. Dubbed the 'butcher of Bahrain', Ian Henderson is now retired and living in Bahrain and it is unclear what his current role is. It is unfortunate that now John Yates, recruited at the height of a crackdown, appears to continue the poor legacy left behind by a string of British advisors in Bahrain's security services during the 20th century. Whether they sought official British government approval before being recruited by the Bahrainis is irrelevant. The British governments praise if not silence, is perceived by Bahrainis to compromise the British government’s neutral position.

34 On 2 July 2012, the BBC announced that forensic detectives from the Metropolitan police were sent to Bahrain to investigate an alleged find of advanced bomb-making materials. [12]

Overall recommendations for action by the British Government

35 The government should not distinguish human rights violators by scale; the argument that 'Bahrain is not Syria' is fundamentally flawed, given Bahrain’s smaller geographic scale and population. Human rights violations in Bahrain should not be any more tolerable than those in Syria.

36 Under the Export Control Act 2002, the British government has the power to restrict exports of goods or technical assistance capable of facilitating internal repression or breaches of human rights. The government should exercise these powers to end exports of goods and services to Bahrain’s security forces.

37 The government, through legislation and oversight, should ensure that UK companies operating internationally respect human rights standards. When awarding contracts, the UK government should take into account the human rights impact of a business’s recent activity. We also recommend a requirement for UK companies to publicly report on the human rights implications of their work abroad.

38 The UK is in dire need of a fully transparent register where PR and lobbying firms are required to detail what services they are providing for their clients, what areas of policy they are hoping to influence, or what discussions they are having with influential figures such as government officials and politicians. The United States’ Foreign Agent Registration Act could serve as a model

39 As we have tried to outline in this submission, British companies and advisors are offering an extensive portfolio of legal, security and military support to a government that has flagrantly breached its own reform and human rights pledges. This support gives the government leverage to influence Bahraini government policy. The UK government should harness this influence to pressure Bahrain to implement its pledges of reform and to bring the country out of its political impasse.

40 The British government should begin to consider targeted sanctions linked to annual reform progress, strict monitoring clauses where exports are approved, and export controls on arms and technical assistance to the security services.

41 We recommend that the FAC scrutinise further the role, activities, and income of certain advisors that have become controversial and divisive figures in Bahrain, and to assess whether their role has been helpful to furthering the British government’s principles on human rights and democracy.

19 November 2012

[***] = redacted by agreement with the author.


[1] Foreign and Commonwealth Office. 30 April 2012. ‘Human Rights and Democracy Report.’

[1] http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/news/latest-news/?view=News&id=758877882

[2] C ampaign Against Arms Trade. 16 March 2011. ‘Saudi Arabia uses UK-made armoured vehicles in Bahrain crackdown on democracy protesters.’

[2] http://www.caat.org.uk/press/press-release.php?url=20110316prs

[3] Export Control Organization. 12 September 2012. Response to FoI request on arms exports to Bahrain.

[3] http://www.caat.org.uk/resources/countries/bahrain/documents/2012-09-12.bis-eco.foi-12-1192-bahrain-licence-companies-with-note.pdf

[4] 29 March 2011. ‘Destroying Bani Jamrah Park Bahrain.’

[4] https://sphotos-b.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ash4/189575_10150511325310347_6138322_n.jpg

[5] Reuters. 18 February 2011. ‘UK revokes arms export licenses to Bahrain, Libya.’

[5] http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/02/18/us-britain-bahrain-arms-idUSTRE71H6CK20110218

[6] Campaign Against Arms Trade. 14 February 2012. ‘Protest as UK continues to arm repression in Bahrain.’

[6] http://www.caat.org.uk/press/press-release.php?url=20120214prs

[7] Business, Innovation and Skills Committee. 13 July 2012. ‘Scrutiny of Arms Exports (2012).’

[7] http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmquad/419/41913.htm#a43

[8] Bill’s Space. 9 April 2012. ‘Hunting Humans: Birdshot in Bahrain’

[8] https://billmarczak.posterous.com/hunting-for-humans-birdshot-in-bahrain#gamebore

[9] House of Commons. 26 March 2012. ‘Daily Hansard - Written Answers.’ http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201212/cmhansrd/cm120326/text/120326w0002.htm#1203273000054

[10] Bahrain Watch. 4 August 2012. ‘Pics of 3 different UK-made Eley shotgun cartridges in #Bahrain, May-Aug 2012’

[10] https://twitter.com/BHWatch/status/232013818463678464

[11] Bill’s Space. 9 April 2012. ‘Hunting Humans: Birdshot in Bahrain’

[11] https://billmarczak.posterous.com/hunting-for-humans-birdshot-in-bahrain#hull

[12] Wikipedia. 12 November 2012. ‘Casualties of the Bahraini Uprising (2011-present).’

[12] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casualties_of_the_Bahraini_uprising_(2011%E2%80%93present)

[13] Bahrain Watch. ‘Arms Watch: tracking the governments and arms dealers fueling the bloodshed.’

[13] http://bahrainwatch.org/arms.html

[14] Armor Holdings, Inc. 16 July 1998. ‘Armor Holdings, Inc. Acquires Federal Laboratories And Licenses Mace Trademark For Law Enforcement’

[14] http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Armor+Holdings,+Inc.+Acquires+Federal+Laboratories+And+Licenses+Mace...-a020912755

[15] BAE Systems. 31 July 2007. ‘BAE SYSTEMS COMPLETES ACQUISITION OF ARMOR HOLDINGS INC.’

[15] http://www.na.baesystems.com/newsReleases/BAE%20SYSTEMS%20COMPLETES%20ACQUISITION%20OF%20ARMOR%20HOLDINGS%20INC_V7_.pdf

[16] Physicians for Human Rights. 16 March 2012. ‘Tear Gas or Lethal Gas? Bahrain’s Death Toll Mounts to 34’

[16] http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/blog/tear-gas-or-lethal-gas.html

[1] Top Dog Security. ‘BAHRAIN CUSTOMS 2007 - TURNKEY PROJECT.’

[1] http://www.topdogsecurity.co.uk/bahrain-customs-2007

[2] Human Rights First. 30 January 2012. ‘Fresh Concerns Over U.S. Military Sales to Bahrain as Crackdown Continues.’ http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/2012/01/30/fresh-concerns-over-u-s-military-sales-to-bahrain-as-crackdown-continues/

[3] Bahrain Center for Human Rights. 19 November 2012. ‘The BICI Reforms: Promises of Progress, a Worsening Reality.’

[3] http://bahrainrights.hopto.org/en/node/5520

[4] Project on Middle East Democracy. November 2012. ‘One Year Later: Assessing Bahrain’s Implementation of the BICI Report.’

[4] http://pomed.org/one-year-later-assessing-bahrains-implementation-of-the-bici-report/

[5] Bahrain Center for Human Rights. 12 April 2012. ‘Thugs backed up by police attacking Jawad 24 Hours supermarket.’

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRrsOdhrssc

[6] Gulf Daily News. 5 May 2011. ‘We were not involved...’

[6] http://www.gulf-daily-news.com/NewsDetails.aspx?storyid=305331

[7] The Guardian. 12 February 2012. ‘Kettling would work well in Bahrain, says former Met police chief.’

[7] http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/feb/13/kettling-bahrain-met-police-chief

[8] The Independent. 12 April 2012. ‘John Yates criticised over Bahrain comments .’

[8] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/john-yates-criticised-over-bahrain-comments-7639836.html

[9] Bahrain Center for Human Rights. 21 April 2012. ‘Formula1 Second day: a protester killed, activists arrested, dozens injured.’

[9] http://bahrainrights.hopto.org/en/node/5202

[10] The Telegraph. 23 April 2012. ‘Bahrain is bewildered by the world’s hostility.’

[10] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/bahrain/9221224/Bahrain-is-bewildered-by-the-worlds-hostility.html

[11] Daily Mail. 24 October 2012. ‘Met boss faces 'humiliating' legal battle with Yates of Yard after 'email slur' sent to high-ranking figure s.’ http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2222707/Met-boss-faces-legal-battle-Yates-Yard-email-slur-sent-high-ranking-figures.html

[12] BBC News. 2 July 2012. ‘British police investigate Bahrain bomb plot.’

[12] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-18680185

Prepared 31st July 2013