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Volume 804: debated on Wednesday 8 July 2020

Private Notice Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they will make to the Government of Bahrain regarding the imprisonment and possible execution of individuals including Mohamed Ramadan and Hussain Moosa, and the reported use of torture to extract their confessions.

My Lords, we have raised, and will continue to raise, both cases at senior levels with the Bahrain Government. As the former Minister for the Middle East and North Africa publicly stated on 8 January, we are deeply concerned about the death sentences handed to Mohamed Ramadan and Hussain Moosa. The Bahraini Government are fully aware that the UK opposes the death penalty. We continue to monitor their case as it is taken to the Court of Cassation for final review.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and appreciate that he is a steadfast defender of human rights. On 13 July, Bahrain’s Court of Cassation will decide whether to uphold the death sentences of Mohamed Ramadan and Hussain Moosa. False confessions were obtained under torture, according to the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims and other international bodies. The torture was carried out by two Bahraini bodies that have received equipment and training from the UK. One of these bodies, the Bahrain Special Investigations Unit, failed to meet the minimum professional standards and minimum international standards, including the UN Convention Against Torture, to which Bahrain is a signatory. In view of the UK’s role, will the Government now make the strongest—and public—representation to the Bahrain authorities to prevent the imminent execution of these two and other prisoners? Will the Minister commit to meet representatives from rights groups before next Monday?

My Lords, on the noble Baroness’s final question, if schedules allow—although under the current circumstances it would have to be a virtual meeting—I will certainly look into meeting these representatives, as I do many rights groups. If that can be facilitated, I will be happy to do so. On her primary point about representations, I assure her that we will continue to make strong representations on all cases, as we have done in the past. Indeed, it was because of UK representation on this case that it went through the retrial. That in itself was a first in Bahrain’s history. However, we await the decision of the Court of Cassation. After that, we will continue to monitor the situation on this case as well as other cases.

My Lords, by any objective legal judgment, Mohamed Ramadan and Hussain Moosa have not had due process. Why can the FCO not put its mouth where British money is going and very vigorously obtain for these two men at least, for now, a delay of execution and a fair trial?

My Lords, I first remind the noble Baroness that the final decision of the Court of Cassation on whether it will uphold the death penalty in this case remains pending. I assure the noble Baroness—I disagree with her—that through the support we have given to Bahrain, both technical and on the wider human rights agenda, we have consistently continued to remind and implore Bahrain to look at the issue of the death penalty. We stand firm, whether with Bahrain or other international partners, and remain steadfast against the death penalty wherever in the world it is used.

My Lords, Bahrain has seen a 1,250% increase in the use of the death penalty since 2017, with 10 political prisoners facing imminent execution. Given the clearly documented failures of the SIU investigation into Mohamed and Hussain’s torture, will the Government now accept that their technical assistance to Bahrain has failed in its aims and objectives, and suspend this assistance if these death sentences are upheld?

My Lords, the United Kingdom’s technical assistance is kept under regular review, is provided in line with international standards, and, I assure the noble Lord, fully complies with our domestic and international human rights obligations. We believe that the positive change sought in Bahrain by the international community will be achieved only by the UK and others working directly with the Bahrain Government and exerting influence.

My Lords, the Minister has assured the House that representations have been made to the authorities in Bahrain expressing our complete and utter opposition to the death penalty. Has he also reiterated our opposition to the use of torture to extract confessions? Will Her Majesty’s Government review their existing package of reform assistance to Bahrain to see what further support can be offered to strengthen human rights and the rule of law in Bahrain?

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is right to raise, as others have, the issue of torture. As he will know, the UK Government consistently and unreservedly condemn torture and cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment. On UK assistance, we are committed to supporting Bahrain-led reform and are confident of its positive impact for people in Bahrain across a variety of areas, including judicial reform and youth management—as well as in the recent steps forward that we have seen on the oversight bodies and the positive legislation enacted to protect migrant workers.

My Lords, in February, the Minister told the House that

“we are far from where we want to be but our continual engagement with the Bahraini authorities is producing results.”—[Official Report, 12/2/20; col. 2262.]

We have provided £6.5 million in technical assistance to the very bodies that have enabled these men’s torture and death sentences. Will the Minister confirm that we will be able to observe the court if that is due to take place on Monday and that he will make public representations on these cases, as noble Lords have requested? Will he pursue the matter if the court’s decision is to uphold these death penalties, ensuring that representation is made to the highest levels, including to the King?

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that, as I have said to other noble Lords, we will take a very strong line, as we have before on the death penalty in Bahrain and, indeed, other parts of the world. This case is yet to be decided; I remind noble Lords of that. Our support and technical support have yielded returns, including the review and retrial of this case. The noble Lord asked specifically whether we will be allowed to attend this trial. I believe that the rules of the Court of Cassation do not allow for the British embassy to attend or observe on this occasion. We await the outcome of the decision of the court. I have listened very carefully to the strength of representations in your Lordships’ House, as I always do, and will discuss it with other colleagues, including my right honourable friend the Minister for the Middle East.

My Lords, I welcome Britain’s position in relation to the death penalty but, with less than one week to save their lives, and in light of the UK’s assistance to the bodies that enabled their torture and sentences, can Her Majesty’s Government confirm that, if they are to make representations in the cases of Ramadan and Moosa, it will be before the Court of Cassation’s final decision on Monday 13 July and not later than that?

My Lords, there has been no formal confirmation directly to us of the exact date, but several noble Lords have quoted the date of 13 July. As I said, it is for the court to make a final review and, ultimately, a decision on whether any exemption, stay or clemency is granted—and of course an avenue remains open to His Majesty as well.

My Lords, this week the Foreign Secretary announced the first of what are colloquially known as Magnitsky sanctions, including against 20 individuals from Saudi Arabia who were involved in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Should these clearly unjust torture-tainted executions tragically occur, will the Government impose similar sanctions on the responsible people from Bahrain?

The Magnitsky sanctions were part and parcel of the legislation that went through your Lordships’ House as part of the overall sanctions Act, and I welcome them. I know that later this afternoon we will be discussing that announcement as well.

On the issue of designations, we have made clear that those who abuse human rights will be held to account, but it would be wrong and inappropriate to speculate on future designations.

My Lords, I have never doubted the commitment of the Minister to the abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances in all countries. I declare an interest as vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Abolition of the Death Penalty. However, why has the 2018 Foreign Affairs Committee report on the effectiveness of UK assistance to Bahrain not yet been properly debated, and why has the review that was promised not yet taken place? The report referred to the gravity of human rights violations there. The FCO was urged to review the current situation in Bahrain and report its findings to us to further consider whether funding for the Special Investigations Unit should continue. Why has that not taken place? Can the Minister look at that again?

My Lords, I will certainly look at that again. The normal process is to respond in terms of receiving a report in an appropriate timeline. I will write specifically on this issue to the noble Lord and of course share that letter with other noble Lords as well.