Over 40 global academics call on Huddersfield University to suspend teaching at alleged 'torture hub'

Dozens of academics from across the world are calling on the University of Huddersfield to suspend a controversial Masters 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)

The Masters course in Security Science, which involves Huddersfield lecturers training Bahrani police officers, has been running since 2018 but has been dogged by claims that the Academy has been used as a "torture hub".

Earlier this year, the London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy wrote to Huddersfield’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 - said to have taken place at the Royal Academy of Policing between 2016 and 2019

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A total of 41 academics have now sent an open letter to The Yorkshire Post calling for the programme to be suspended to allow an independent investigation to take place. It follows similar calls by human rights groups including Amnesty International earlier this year.

The university said today that the delivery of the course is in line with Government objectives to help reform policing in Bahrain.

The letter from the academics states: “We are writing to condemn the University of Huddersfield’s decision to maintain an exclusive MSc in Security Science for students at Bahrain’s Royal Academy of Policing following revelations in The Times and The Yorkshire Post that at least ten political prisoners report being tortured at the site.

“Since their publication, more individuals have come forward testifying to being tortured on Academy premises. We therefore join human rights groups in urging the University of Huddersfield to suspend their MSc to the RAP, pending an independent investigation. Should the management fail to act, we encourage Huddersfield students to raise the matter with their Students’ Union.”

Among the signatories are two professors from the University of Leeds and one from the University of Bradford. The letter is also backed by academics from the US, Canada, Switzerland and Malta.

It is also supported by the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies, whose president Baroness Haleh Afshar is Emeritus Professor of Politics at the University of York.

A spokesperson for the organisation said: ““The British Society for Middle Eastern Studies wishes to express grave concerns about the complicity of the University of Huddersfield with human rights abuses in Bahrain.

“The UoH offers an MSc in Security Science which trains police officers in Bahrain’s Royal Academy of Policing, and brings the university into a collaborative relationship with Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior. However, the RAP and the Ministry of Interior has been the subject of a considerable number of allegations of torture and abuse.

“These allegations have only multiplied since the Bahraini regime ruthlessly suppressed the mass uprising of 2011. BRISMES is committed to research, teaching and education in our field which raises critical awareness, supports justice for the people of the Middle East, and ends complicity with repressive regimes and institutions.

"We would therefore like to add our voice to those who oppose this MSc in Security Science, and call upon the University of Huddersfield to withdraw from what is clearly an untenable and highly-compromising collaboration with the security services in Bahrain.”

The Bahrain Institute for Rights & Democracy, which has made repeated calls for the university to drop the course, said the letter should act as a reminder to Huddersfield University leaders that the programme “undermines the academic integrity of their institution”.

A spokesperson for Huddersfield University said: “The delivery of this course is in line with the mission advocated by the UK Government’s Department of International Trade. Indeed, as indicated by the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, earlier this year ‘The United Kingdom is committed to supporting Bahrain-led reform, including through carefully-targeted assistance and private and public engagement. We are clear that disengaging or criticising from the sidelines is less likely to deliver the positive reform that Bahrain and the international community seek.’.”

Earlier this year, the Embassy of Bahrain said the torture allegations were unconnected to the Masters programme and “an attempt to undermine important UK-Bahrain policing co-operation”. The Embassy said any formal allegation would be subject to a “full and detailed” investigation.

The academics' letter

We are writing to condemn the University of Huddersfield’s (UoH) decision to maintain an exclusive MSc in Security Science for students at Bahrain’s Royal Academy of Policing (RAP) following revelations in The Times and The Yorkshire Post that at least ten political prisoners report being tortured at the site.

Since their publication, more individuals have come forward testifying to being tortured on Academy premises, including UK-based asylum seekers, death row inmates and family members of prominent Bahraini activist Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei.

The widespread use of torture in Bahrain is well documented and almost a decade of training from the UK government has failed to reduce its prevalence. Regardless of the British government’s policy to Bahrain, the UoH has failed in its obligations under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights to conduct due diligence to ensure their business practices do not infringe upon human rights or contribute to their violation.

As bastions of freedom of conscience and expression, all universities have a moral responsibility to defend and promote these values. We understand training an institution deeply involved in the suppression of dissidents in Bahrain to be inconsistent with this duty.

We therefore join human rights groups in urging the UoH to suspend their MSc to the RAP, pending an independent investigation. Should the management fail to act, we encourage Huddersfield students to raise the matter with their Students' Union.

1. Dr Ala’a Al Shehabi, Deputy Director of the Institute for Global Prosperity, University College London

2. Dr Sam Raphael, Senior Lecturer in Politics, University of Westminster

3. Prof. Gilbert Achcar, Professor of Development Studies & International Relations, SOAS

4. Dr Yair Wallach, Senior Lecturer in Israeli Studies, SOAS

5. Dr David Wearing, Teaching Fellow in International Relations, Royal Holloway

6. Dr Adam Hanieh, Reader in Development Studies, SOAS

7. Prof. Ilan Pappé, Director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies and Professor of History,

University of Exeter

8. Dr Nivi Manchanda, Senior Lecturer in International Politics, Queen Mary

9. Dr Jacob Norris, Senior Lecturer in Middle East History, University of Sussex

10. Dr Ruth Kinna, Professor of Political Theory, Loughborough University

11. Dr. Lutz Oette, Reader in International Law, SOAS

12. Dr Carla Ferstman, Senior Lecturer in the Law Faculty, University of Essex

13. Dr Thomas Swann, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, Loughborough University

14. Dr Rob Faure Walker, Researcher, SOAS & Prevent Digest

15. Dr Alexandre Christoyannopoulos, Senior Lecturer in Politics & International Relations, Loughborough University

16. Prof. Ad Putter, Professor of Medieval English, University of Bristol

17. Dr Dave Berry, Honorary Fellow, Loughborough University

18. Prof. James Pattison, REF Lead for Politics, University of Manchester

19. Dr Mahvish Ahmad, Assistant Professor in Human Rights and Politics, London School of Economics

20. Prof. John Chalcraft, Professor of Middle East History and Politics, London School of Economics

21. Prof. Lynn Welchman, Professor of Law in the Middle East and North Africa, SOAS

22. Prof. James Dickins, Professor of Arabic, University of Leeds

23. Prof. Janet Watson, Leadership Chair for Language at Leeds, University of Leeds

24. Dr Saladin Meckled Garcia, Director of the UCL Institute for Human Rights and Associate

Professor in Human Rights and Political Theory, University College London

25. Dr Luke G. G. Bhatia, Lecturer in International Politics, University of Manchester

26. Dr Simon Chin-Yee, Teaching Fellow, University College London

27. Dr Peter Hill, Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fellow in History, Northumbria University

28. Prof Mona Baker, Professor Emerita of Translation Studies, University of Manchester

29. Prof. Martha Mundy, Professor Emerita of Anthropology, London School of Economics

30. Dr Lewis Turner, Lecturer in International Politics of Gender, Newcastle University

31. Dr Celia Kerslake, Chair, British Association for Turkish Area Studies (BATAS)

32. Catherine Cobham, Lecturer in Arabic Language and Modern Arabic Literature, University of St Andrews

33. James Godfrey, PhD Researcher, Birkbeck, University of London

34. Dr Hilary Rose, Professor Emerita of Social Policy, University of Bradford

35. Christine Robins, Ibrahim Ahmed Professor of Kurdish Studies, University of Exeter

36. Dr Çiğdem Balım, Senior Lecturer Emerita, Near Eastern Languages & Cultures, Indiana University

37. Dr Mark Ayyash, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology & Anthropology, Mount Royal University, Canada

38. Dr Kurstin Gatt, Lecturer in Oriental Studies, University of Malta

39. Dr Hilary Kilpatrick, Independent Scholar, Lausanne, Switzerland

40. Jeremy Wildeman, PhD Researcher, University of Ottawa, Canada

41. Dr Kate Cronin-Furman, Lecturer in Human Rights, University College London

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