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Bahrain protesters, police clash as island marks uprising

Anti-government protesters in Bahrain clashed with police on Tuesday as they marked the sixth anniversary of the tiny island kingdom's Arab Spring uprising.

Images posted on social media showed masked protesters hurling rocks and other projectiles at riot police, who responded with tear gas. Protesters elsewhere were seen marching peacefully through rain-soaked streets, carrying the national flag.


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Bahrain: Human Rights Crisis Deepened Since Protests Began Six Years Ago Today

14 February 2017 – On the anniversary of the 14 February 2011 protest movement, we, the undersigned, are deeply concerned that Bahrain’s human rights situation has now reached unprecedented lows. Bahrain’s precipitously worsening rights record is damaging not just for Bahrain, but for the stability of the entire region. The 34th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, set to begin on 27 February, marks a moment when the international community can likewise express concerns on the continued human rights violations in Bahrain and urge Bahrain to undertake urgent steps toward reform. Bahrain’s 3rd cycle Universal Periodic Review, which will occur in May 2017, provides another opportunity for the international community to raise their concerns concerns. We, the undersigned, strongly encourage international actors to seize these opportunities, and condemn the exacerbated violations of human rights occurring in Bahrain.

Six years ago today began the largest protest movement in Bahrain’s history. Protests driven by calls for the respect of human rights, democratic reforms, and an end to corruption , swelled in size in the face of police brutality. Protesters, centering their demonstrations around the iconic Pearl monument, numbered in the many tens of thousands. Their calls for dignity and democracy were quashed after a month: on 14 March 2011, when Saudi and Emirati forces entered Bahrain and a state of martial law was declared. Hundreds of people were arrested, tortured, and sentenced by military court. Several people died in the custody of the security forces and National Security Agency.

Faced with international pressure, the Government of Bahrain commissioned an independent international panel of human rights experts to investigate and document abuses committed in February–June 2011 and make key recommendations to the government for reforms. The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry issued their report, published in November that year, set out 26 recommendations that were accepted by all parties in Bahrain. These recommendations called for accountability, justice for victims, national reconciliation, a moratorium on the death penalty and respect for the freedoms of expression, assembly and association. These recommendations were further echoed by the international community a year later in Bahrain’s second  Universal Periodic Review.

Six years on, the situation has regrettably grown increasingly worse. Ad-hoc violence and human rights violations have now been entrenched into Bahraini law. The National Security Agency, stripped of law enforcement powers after their role in torturing Bahrainis, were regranted powers of arrest and interrogation in January 2017. The Government is currently pursuing a constitutional amendment that opens the door to empower martial courts to try civilians. Arbitrary denaturalization has been established within Bahraini law, and to date approximately 350 people have been stripped of citizenship, most of them through arbitrary administrative orders or following unfair trials. The majority have been rendered stateless.

The Government of Bahrain crossed a new red line on 15 January 2017, when it illegally executed Ali Al-Singace, Abbas Al-Samea and Sami Mushaima. All three of the men suffered torture to coerce false confessions that were used to  convict them in a deeply flawed trial that violated numerous international fair trial standards. The Court of Cassation, Bahrain’s supreme court of appeals, upheld their convictions in early January 2017, and the government  carried out the executions less than a week later. Ali, Abbas and Sami are the first persons executed in Bahrain since 2010, and the first executed for politically-related charges since 1996. Their executions were condemned by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings.

Most leading human rights defenders and political opposition leaders have been targeted with harassment, censorship, arrest or arbitrary imprisonment in relation to their work. Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, faces up to 17 years in prison in multiple cases, all relating to his exercise of his free expression and his work as a human rights defender. Yet other human rights defenders are forced to work quietly or have been banned from travel on multiple occasions, while still others, like Zainab Al-Khawaja, have been forced into exile for their outspoken criticism of human rights violations.

The leader of the Al Wefaq Islamic Society, Sheikh Ali Salman, is serving a 9-year prison sentence, and his party – the largest in Bahrain – was dissolved in 2016. The leaders of other opposition parties are also in prison, including Fadhel Abbas of Al-Wahdawi and Hassan Mushaima of Al-Haq. Ebrahim Sharif, former leader of the National Democratic Action Society (Wa’ad), served four years in prison between 2011 and 2015, and was re-arrested within weeks of his release for making a political speech.

Security forces continue to employ excessive use of force to quell protests, and demonstrators are injured nightly by the use of birdshot pellets and tear gas. The prison population continues to grow in Bahrain, with the Bahrain Center for Human Rights estimating over 3,000 prisoners serving politically-related sentences. Meanwhile, as peaceful leaders have been imprisoned and security forces continue to employ excessive force, increasing violence against the state has also been registered.

There is no accountability in Bahrain. To date, no senior officials have been held accountable for torture, excessive use of force or extrajudicial killings in Bahrain. Senior Bahraini leadership, including the Minister of Interior, who has held his position for 13 years, have never been investigated for command responsibility of the security forces which conducted arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and torture. The military judge who oversaw the sentencing of hundreds of torture victims, doctors, trade unionists, protesters and political leaders in 2011, Mansour Al-Mansour, was never held to account. Instead, in 2016, he was appointed to a Saudi Coalition military unit which investigates humanitarian law violations in Yemen.

The Government of Bahrain has created institutions which allege to investigate human rights abuses, including the Police Ombudsman, the Prisoners and Detainees Rights Commission (PDRC), the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) and the National Institute for Human Rights (NIHR). Yet none of these institutions are independent or effective. The Ombudsman and PDRC are tied to the Ministry of Interior, of which they are supposed to be the watchdog. The Special Investigations Unit lacks independence from the Public Prosecution, which is involved in systematically using confessions extracted under torture to prosecute victims, and it is complicit in absolving the state of torture allegations, as in the case of Abbas Al-Samea. The NIHR’s membership is largely drawn from state employees and it has never criticised the government for human rights abuses, and it most recently wrongly declared the January 2017 executions were to international standards. These are the same executions which the UN human rights procedures condemned.

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy, Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy: “Bahrain is in the process of establishing a de facto state of martial law. The situation is worse now and more volatile than at any time in the past. Bahrain’s ally, the United Kingdom, no matter its intentions, has used its influential role to help protect the state against demands for rights reform. Bahrain has shown a total disregard for human rights and the dignity of its citizens. The question remains, how deep must this rejection of rights go before the UK criticises Bahrain?”

Husain Abdulla, Executive Director, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain: It is now more crucial than ever for the international community to refocus on Bahrain’s rising crisis. The people of Bahrain have valiantly maintained their peaceful struggle for human rights and democratic values in the face of mounting state repression. Bahrainis need to know that the international community are likewise committed to these aspirations, and that they will not allow short term economic or other interests to trump international human rights values.

We, the undersigned, condemn the Government of Bahrain’s entrenchment of human rights violations. We call on Bahrain to respect the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, the right to a fair trial and the protection of all people from torture. We call on the international community to hold Bahrain to account, in particular in the upcoming 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council and Bahrain’s 3rd Universal Period Review cycle.



    Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain

    Bahrain Center for Human Rights

    Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy

    European Center for Democracy and Human Rights


Authorities in Bahrain must refrain from using excessive force against protesters, Amnesty International urged as mass protests are under way on 14 February, to mark the sixth anniversary of the 2011 uprising.

Bahrain is on the verge of a human rights crisis, as recent weeks have seen a pattern of increased repression, characterized by violence against protesters, executions, arbitrary detentions and a crackdown on freedom of expression.

“Bahrain is at a tipping point. The first two months of 2017 alone saw an alarming upsurge in arbitrary and abusive force by security forces as well as the first executions since the uprising in 2011,” said Lynn Maalouf, Deputy Director at Amnesty International’s Beirut regional office. “The authorities must rein in the security forces, respect the rights to peaceful assembly, association and expression, and stop executions, otherwise a full blown human rights crisis risks breaking out.”


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Bahrain Constitutional Amendment Could Send Civilians to Military Courts

Military courts in Bahrain could soon be expanding their powers and may gain jurisdiction to prosecute civilians if a new constitutional amendment is passed. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) is greatly concerned with the potential consequences such a distortion of legal power would have on the right to fair trials and urges the Bahraini Government to act in accordance with international legal standards.

On 5 February 2017, the Bahraini Parliament provided initial approval on the constitutional amendment put forth by Royal Decree (7/2017) and referred it to the Parliamentary Legislative and Legal Affairs Committee for review. The proposal amends the wording of art. 105(b) of the constitution which originally limits jurisdiction of military courts to military offences committed by military personnel, and civilians only when martial law has been declared.

Article 105(B): “The jurisdiction of military courts is restricted to military crimes that are committed by employees of the Bahrain Defence Force, the National Guard and the general security forces. It cannot enjoy wider jurisdiction except in the case that martial law is announced according to the limits set out by law.”

The proposed amendment however allows the military courts to prosecute civilians, as it includes the general security forces under its jurisdiction. No limitations of military courts are imposed in the proposed amendment. The amended text now reads thus:

“This law regulates the military courts and sets out their jurisdiction, which includes the Bahrain Defence Force, the National Guard and the general security forces.”

Within the next few weeks the Legislative and Legal Affairs Committee will discuss the proposal and conceive a report; the National Assembly will then consider the proposal.

The explanatory memorandum supplied by the Directorate of Legal Affairs said that: “It has become necessary to empower the apparatus of the military courts to achieve the aforementioned goals ... according to this, the jurisdiction of the military courts will be broadened to include crimes determined by the law. This will safeguard the safety, prestige and interests of the military apparatus throughout the Kingdom, and especially that of the Bahrain Defence Force, which is responsible for defending and protecting the nation, and for guaranteeing the independence, sovereignty, safety and security of its territory. It is especially important since crimes relevant to military institutions require greater flexibility and speed to investigate and prosecute them, in the shortest possible time, in order to guarantee the safety, security and stability of the nation.”

According to art. 120(a) of the constitution, the King and two-thirds of members of the Consultative Council and Council of Representatives must approve the amendment for it to pass.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention have both held that military courts should not be used to try civilians. If this constitutional amendment is passed, it will be in violation of Article 14(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which guarantees that: “In the determination of any criminal charge against him, or of his rights and obligations in a suit at law, everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law.”

The lack of due process when prosecuting civilians in front of military courts has been demonstrated in 2011. In 2011, following pro-reform protests, hundreds of people including lawyers, medical staff, athletes and activists were sentenced in front of a military court, following Royal Decree (18/2011) declaring a State of National Safety. The State of National Safety was terminated on 1 June 2011, however a military court continued hearings until 6 October 2011. On the military courts, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report has stated that: “fundamental principles of a fair trial, including prompt and full access to legal counsel and inadmissibility of coerced testimony, were not respected” (para. 1720.)

The former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay criticised the practise of trying civilians in military courts in Bahrain in 2011: “The trial of civilians before military courts is always a cause of concern... The defendants are entitled to fair trials before civil courts, in accordance with international legal standards and in keeping with Bahrain’s international human rights obligations.” Human Rights Watch has described  the Bahraini military courts as a "travesty  of  justice,"  while Amnesty International has described them as a "sham" and "a parody of justice." expressing concern that those prosecuted would not receive fair trials and proper legal representation.

The members of the court are appointed by the chief  of  the  army. As per BCHR’s 2011 documentation, the  court  showed  a lack of impartiality  by  not  allowing  access  to  lawyers  or  family  for  the  defendants,  not  presenting  evidence,  and  ignoring  claims  of torture. The  defendants  were  often  not notified  of the  charges  against them until their court hearing. There was a  ban  on  pens  and  paper  pads during hearings.  Furthermore,  making a  statement  to  any  media  outlet  was  prohibited  even  for  journalists  and  the  media  was  restricted  to  state-run  television.  Journalists representing non-Bahraini outlets were not granted access to the hearings.

Dr. Alaa Shehabi described her 2011 experience of the courts as follows: “The military court buildings in Riffa are relatively new. Built in 2007, one wonders if they were built with its current use in mind. Upon entering, one is only allowed to carry their ID card, no watch, no paper, no pens, no jewellery - not even a wedding ring. I had to remove my headscarf and earrings during the painstaking electronic and hand search. There is an army officer standing every couple of metres in the lobbies and court rooms. This building, with only two courtrooms, was clearly not designed to handle this number of trials in one day. Female detainees are held in the lawyers' room for lack of space, male detainees are made to stand in the sun because of overcrowding in their holding cells and lawyers have to hang about in the lobby - as their room is now occupied by the female prisoners."

Based on the above, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights demands the authorities in Bahrain to:

  • Halt and cancel the proposed constitutional amendment that will allow civilians to be tried in military court and violates the right to a fair trial;
  • Adhere to the international and Bahraini law, which provides for the right of the accused to have fair litigation and an adequate defense; and
  • Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Bahrain.


Additional Information

The explanatory note supplied by the Directorate of Legal Affairs said that:

“The instruments of the military courts, including the Bahrain Defence Force, the National Guard and the general security forces, are part of the general judiciary of the Kingdom of Bahrain. They are focused on following up legal and judicial matters with the responsible military officials and the like, especially as regards criminal charges. There can be no doubt that the establishment of these bodies is not restricted to pursuing these charges – their fundamental aim is to safeguard the privacy of the military apparatus and the secret nature of the information revealed within them. They are to be regarded as the protective shield of the Kingdom of Bahrain.”

“In light of the crises the Gulf Arab region is currently experiencing and the resulting spillovers that threaten society at large and its very bases – not to mention the phenomenon of terrorism and the proliferation of terrorist groups that disturb the security of the GCC, and the various regional wars - it is clear that it is necessary to promote peace and national as well as regional security. Safeguarding measures must be taken to increase the level of protection, the capabilities of military institutions and the scope of areas under their jurisdiction. This is especially true since the Bahrain Defence Force is currently carrying out its national and regional duties by safeguarding the security of the GCC and taking part in a number of fighting missions and military operations. In fact, its forces are constantly spread out inside and outside the Kingdom.”

“It has become necessary to empower the apparatus of the military courts to achieve the aforementioned goals and aims by replacing Article 15(B) of the constitution with a new article – according to this, the jurisdiction of the military courts will be broadened to include crimes determined by the law. This will safeguard the safety, prestige and interests of the military apparatus throughout the Kingdom, and especially that of the Bahrain Defence Force, which is responsible for defending and protecting the nation, and for guaranteeing the independence, sovereignty, safety and security of its territory. It is especially important since crimes relevant to military institutions require greater flexibility and speed to investigate and prosecute them, in the shortest possible time, in order to guarantee the safety, security and stability of the nation.”

NGOs Send Letter to UN Human Rights Council on Bahrain

To Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the UN Human Rights Council

                                                                                                                                                                               10 February, 2017

Your Excellency,

In view of the marked deterioration in the already poor human rights situation in Bahrain, and as the minimum collective action required, we urge your delegation to support a joint statement expressing concern over and calling for improvements in the human rights situation in Bahrain at the 34th session of the Human Rights Council.

The Human Rights Council (HRC) has largely remained silent on the situation in Bahrain since 35 states delivered a 5th joint statement on Bahrain at the 30th session of the HRC in September 2015. In the intervening period, and particularly since mid-2016, the situation has worsened significantly.  We believe it is extremely important for HRC member and observer states to put their strong concerns about this situation on record.

Unlawful Executions and Death Row Cases

On January 17, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said it was “appalled” by the January 15 execution of Sami Mushaima, Ali al-Singace, and Abbas al-Sameea, charged with the murder of three police officers, citing their alleged torture in custody and the fact that “their lawyers were not given access to all the hearings against them nor allowed to cross-examine prosecution witnesses during court hearings.” The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions declared the executions “extrajudicial killings.” 

These executions have raised concerns that King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa will approve the executions of two Bahrainis, Mohamed Ramadan and Husain Ali Moosa, whose convictions were based almost exclusively on confessions that Mr Ramadan and Mr Moosa allege were coerced through torture; both men later retracted their confessions. Moreover, we are deeply concerned by the fact that purportedly independent torture investigators in Bahrain, namely the Special Investigation Unit and the Interior Ministry Ombudsman, failed to investigate torture allegations in several of these cases, allowing the trials of all five men to proceed in relying on confessions allegedly extracted through torture.

Marked Deterioration in Human Rights Situation since June 2016

These cases are among the most concerning developments of the last 12 months during which time an orchestrated crackdown on the rights to free expression, assembly and association have badly undermined prospects for a political solution to Bahrain’s domestic unrest. In June 2016, Bahraini authorities dissolved the main political opposition group, al-Wifaq; jailed the country’s leading human rights defender, Nabeel Rajab; charged a prominent human rights lawyer, Mohamed al-Tajer, with offences that violate his right to free expression; further undermined media freedom by charging a prominent Bahraini journalist with working without a license; and harassed and prosecuted Shia clerics who peacefully protested the arbitrary revocation of the citizenship of al-Wifaq’s spiritual leader, Sheikh Isa Qasim. Bahrain’s courts continue to play a key role in the repressive order and have granted the authorities broad discretion to revoke Bahrainis’ citizenship. Authorities have continued to arbitrarily strip citizenship from Bahrainis who have been critical of the government, in some cases leaving them stateless.

Torture and Accountability

In the statement in September 2015, HRC members and observers urged Bahrain to “appropriately address all reports of torture and ill-treatment of detainees and ensure full investigation and prosecution of these cases.” Unfortunately, credible reports of torture and mistreatment of detainees continue to emerge from Bahrain and the authorities have made little progress in holding police and security forces accountable. In January 2017, Bahrain restored arrest and investigatory powers to Bahrain’s National Security Agency (NSA), which conducted “terrorizing” house raids and systematically tortured detainees in 2011, per the report of the Bahrain International Commission of Inquiry (BICI). The decision to grant the NSA the power to arrest and detain people reverses one of the few recommendations the government implemented in accordance with the BICI report’s 2011 recommendations.

Travel Ban

Bahraini authorities have routinely obstructed Bahraini activists from briefing representatives of member and observer states of the HRC. In June and September 2016, arbitrary travel bans prevented numerous human rights activists from attending the 32nd and 33rd session of the HRC. Those prevented from traveling included rights activists Nedal al-Salman and Abdulnabi al-Ekry; Mohamed al-Tajer, a human rights lawyer; Jalila al-Salman, the former vice-president of the dissolved Bahrain Teacher’s Society; Rula al-Saffar, a nurse and human rights activist; and Mohamed Sharaf, the president of the Bahraini chapter of Transparency International, Ebrahim al-Demistani, the formerly imprisoned medic and labour rights activist. The government refuses to allow Human Rights Watch and other independent international rights monitors to visit the country.

Conclusion and Recommendations 

The UN General Assembly resolution that set up the HRC as an organ for the promotion and protection of human rights outlined the importance of non-governmental organisations in the realisation of that goal. Not only is Bahrain in clear violation of fundamental human rights, it is obstructing the HRC’s efforts to promote and protect those rights.

We urge your delegation to resume efforts to address the human rights situation in Bahrain at the upcoming 34th session of the Council and to promote and support a resolution that, at a minimum, calls on the Government of Bahrain to:

  • •    Release protesters, activists and human rights defenders detained or convicted solely for having exercised their rights to peaceful assembly, association or expression;
  • •    Ensure independent, thorough, and impartial investigations into all allegations of torture and ill-treatment;
  • •    Demonstrate the effectiveness, impartiality and independence of human rights institutions, including the National Human Rights Institution, the Ombudsman, the Special Investigations Unit and the Prisoners and Detainees Rights Commission;
  • •    Commute the death sentences of Mohammed Ramadan and Husain Ali Moosa;
  • •    Revise or repeal laws that unduly restrict freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and association;
  • •    Engage in comprehensive reform of the legal system to ensure effective independence of the judiciary;
  • •    Ensure accountability for the serious human rights violations that took place during and after the 2011 protests, including but not limited to those documented in the BICI report;
  • •    Cooperate with Special Procedures of the HRC, including by swiftly providing access to Special Rapporteurs who have outstanding requests for visits to Bahrain, most notably the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

We urge your delegation to press the Government of Bahrain to take immediate steps to reverse the alarming deterioration in human rights situation in the country. We urge you to support a joint statement as a first step towards the realization of that goal.

We look forward to continued collaboration on these issues and we remain available to provide further information as required.

With assurances of our highest consideration,


  • Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
  • ARTICLE 19
  • Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)
  • Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
  • European Centre For Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
  • FIDH
  • Freedom House
  • Front Line Defenders
  • Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
  • Human Rights First (HRF)
  • Human Rights Watch (HRW)
  • International Service For Human Rights (ISHR)
  • PEN International
  • Reprieve

See the letter in pdf format here.

British MPs question 'slush fund' aid spending in Bahrain

British parliamentarians have questioned the use of money from a £1bn ($1.24bn) annual aid programme to fund projects in Bahrain despite continuing human rights concerns in the Gulf kingdom.

report published on Tuesday by the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy found that management of the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) was “opaque” and that most funded projects were hidden from public scrutiny.

The committee also highlighted concerns raised by Bahraini human rights activists and the human rights advocacy group Reprieve about projects funded by CSSF money in Bahrain.

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Donald Trump 'to approve arms sales to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain' blocked by Barack Obama

Donald Trump's administration is reportedly preparing to approve major arms sales to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

The multi-million and multi-billion dollar deals were blocked by former President Barack Obama during the final months of his administration over human rights concerns. 

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Trump ready to approve weapons packages to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain that Obama blocked

The Trump administration is poised to move quickly to approve major weapons packages for Saudi Arabia and Bahrain that President Obama blocked during his final months in office over human rights concerns in both nations, U.S. officials and congressional sources say.

While the White House declined to discuss its plans, one U.S. official directly involved in the transfers told The Washington Times that a roughly $300 million precision-guided missile technology package for Riyadh and a multibillion-dollar F-16 deal for Bahrain are now in the pipeline ready for clearance from the new administration.

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Secrecy around £1bn aid and security fund raises 'significant concern', say MPs

MPs and Lords have expressed “significant concern” over the lack of transparency, accountability and leadership of a £1bn government fund aimed at tackling conflicts and building stability overseas.

An inquiry into the conflict, stability and security fund (CSSF) described it as “opaque” and said the government had failed to provide enough evidence to scrutinise the fund effectively. The secrecy surrounding the fund, which comes partly from aid money, undermined the government’s objectives for transparency over aid funding, according to the joint committee on the national security strategy.

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UK admits training Bahrain police in 'public order' tactics

The British government has admitted it funded training that taught Bahraini police how to "command and control" demonstrators, after its denials were exposed by a human rights group.

Rights organisations warn that the UK’s support for the Bahraini police force, which is frequently accused of abuses and using excessive force to quell peaceful pro-democracy protests, risks "helping arrest and execute people who are guilty of nothing more than calling for reform."

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