Yorkshire university rejects calls to suspend teaching at alleged 'torture hub'

Huddersfield University has rejected calls to suspend a lucrative degree programme it runs with Bahrain's Royal Academy of Policing over allegations that widespread torture of political prisoners had been taking place at the location.

Concerns have been raised about police brutality in Bahrain. This picture shows an anti-Government protesters being detained in 2012. (AP Photo / Hasan Jamali)
Concerns have been raised about police brutality in Bahrain. This picture shows an anti-Government protesters being detained in 2012. (AP Photo / Hasan Jamali)

The university has told The Yorkshire Post it is continuing the course but has passed details of the allegations made to the authorities in Bahrain for investigation. Demands for the course to be suspended were made last month by human rights groups including Amnesty International after allegations of torture were smuggled out of the Gulf state and made public.

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Earlier this year, the London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) and the Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) groups wrote to the university’s vice-chancellor Professor Bob Cryan with detailed allegations of the torture of 10 prisoners - including people being subjected to severe beatings, sleep deprivation, being threatened with the rape and torture of family members and made to sign pre-prepared confessions - alleged to have taken place at the Royal Academy of Policing between 2016 and 2019.

Prince Andrew was made Huddersfield University's Chancellor in 2015 but resigned in November 2019 following criticism of his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Picture: James Hardisty

Their calls for the degree programme to be suspended were backed by both Amnesty International and Liberal Democrat peer Lord Scriven, who is from Huddersfield.

Professor Cryan has now responded to the letter, saying “the delivery of this course is in line with the mission advocated by the UK Government’s Department of International Trade”.

A spokesman for the university said: “The course is continuing. Last month, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, said: ‘We urge all allegations of this nature to be reported to the appropriate national oversight body whose duty it is to carry out full, independent investigations into these allegations and we continue to encourage the oversight bodies to carry out swift and thorough investigations into any such claims’.”

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy at BIRD, said: “Despite the severity of the torture allegations against their business partner, the university management has chosen to bury their heads in the sand while continuing to profit from their toxic deal with Bahrain.

“The University’s refusal to take action on the matter could amount to complicity and the failure to act sets a dangerous precedent and will not go unchallenged.”

Husain Abdulla, Executive Director at ADHRB, added: "For years, the British government has put profit before the rights of Bahraini people and the results of this dangerous policy are becoming painfully apparent.

"However, as an institution which claims to uphold human rights, the University of Huddersfield has a moral duty to ensure their business does not contribute to their violation. The cynical use of UK foreign policy as an excuse for their inaction is shameful."

The university has refused to confirm how much it is being paid by Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior for running the course on the grounds that the information is “commercially sensitive” but BIRD has said it is likely to be over £1m given there are 25 students on the course for the current academic year, MSc degrees for international students at Huddersfield typically cost £15,000 per year and the university and the Royal Academy of Policing signed a four-year contract.

In 2017, a report by the UN Committee Against Torture said it was concerned at “numerous and consistent allegations of widespread torture and ill-treatment” of prisoners in Bahrain and said it was concerned that organisations in the state supposed to investigate complaints were not independent or effective.

A spokesman for the Bahrain Embassy insisted effective investigations into the allegations will be undertaken.

“In line with a request from the University of Huddersfield, these issues are currently being examined by the relevant oversight agencies in the Kingdom of Bahrain,” he said.

“As in all such cases, these bodies will conduct a full, thorough and impartial investigation into allegations made, and part of this process will involve a detailed review of all relevant evidence including documentary records, CCTV footage and witness testimony.

“These agencies have already established a strong and widely-recognised reputation for the independence and effectiveness of their work, and have clearly demonstrated by their actions that they are important safeguards in upholding the highest standards of human rights protection.”