Patrick Stewart must speak out about Hudderfield University’s link with alleged ‘torture hub’ in Bahrain: Anthony Harwood

Name a cause and the chances are Sir Patrick Stewart has espoused it.

Sir Patrick Stewart, former Chancellor of Huddersfield University returned back to campus in 2016 to unveil a plaque which sees the drama department officially renamed the Sir Patrick Stewart Building. Picture: James Hardisty
Sir Patrick Stewart, former Chancellor of Huddersfield University returned back to campus in 2016 to unveil a plaque which sees the drama department officially renamed the Sir Patrick Stewart Building. Picture: James Hardisty

Human rights, animal rights, women’s rights, domestic violence, assisted suicide, post-traumatic stress disorder.

You name it, he’s championed it.

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The British actor is almost as famous for his commitment to these causes as the stage roles or Star Trek and X-Men leads which have brought him global fame.

Sir Patrick Stewart, former Chancellor of Huddersfield University returned back to campus in 2016 to unveil a plaque which sees the drama department officially renamed the Sir Patrick Stewart Building. Picture: James Hardisty

But, if you are a serial campaigner you have to be prepared for scrutiny if you get connected, however tenuously, to the type of behaviour that you rail against.

Sir Patrick is Emeritus Chancellor of the University of Huddersfield which it has been revealed is running courses for students in Bahrain, a Gulf state with a record of serious human rights abuses.

Well, that’s no big deal, you might ordinarily think.

The same could be said of hundreds of UK businesses who choose to do business with Manama.

But the issue here is that political dissidents are allegedly being tortured at the Royal Academy of Policing (RAP) – the very place where the country’s future cops are being taught by Huddersfield lecturers about forensics, cybercrime and terrorism for their masters degree.

Bahrain is a constitutional monarchy where the government is appointed by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

During the Arab Spring which swept through the Middle East in 2011 the country was rocked by huge protests which came so close to toppling the regime that Saudi Arabia had to send in troops to prop it up.

A massive crackdown ensued with waves of arrests of anyone suspected of agitating for reform, many of whom were incarcerated in Jaw Prison, situated next door to the RAP.

Between 2016 and 2019 at least ten political dissidents have alleged to have been brought up from their cells to Building 15 in the prison at the start of a prolonged torture ordeal.

From there they were summarily taken across the road to the RAP where they say that their interrogators subjected them to horrific torture treatment, including electrocution and severe beatings to the face, abdomen and genitals.

All the prisoners reported facing the same interrogation techniques – sleep deprivation, forced standing and being hanged from the ceiling by their hands.

In six of the cases, the treatment led to prisoners signing pre-prepared confessions which were later used against them at trial.

Ali Husain Fardan Qadhim, 31, who was arrested in November 2018 and is now awaiting trial, said: “Every day I would be taken from Building 15 to the academy for interrogation.

“It went on like this for 17 days,” he said. “The first violation was when I was stripped naked and sexually assaulted.”

“I was kicked and beaten about my genitals and threatened with rape. They made threats against my mother and wife. All the time I was blindfolded and my hands were tied behind my back.”

For their part, the Embassy of Bahrain told this newspaper this month that the allegations which have been made by the prisoners “are unconnected with the Huddersfield University Masters programme, and are an attempt to undermine important UK-Bahrain policing cooperation”, while also saying if any formal complaints are made they will be fully investigated.

The university course was established at the RAP in 2018 with the help of Prince Andrew, who had succeeded Sir Patrick as Chancellor three years earlier, only to be forced to step down from the role in the wake of the disastrous BBC interview on his friendship with the disgraced paedophile, Jeffrey Epstein.

But Sir Patrick is still there, having become Emeritus Chancellor when Andrew got his job.

The actor had been Chancellor of the university between 2004 to 2015 and remains a regular visitor.

Currently in the US promoting a new season of Star Wars: Picard, he has so far been silent on the issue.

That is contrast to the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Scriven who said: “As someone born and raised in Huddersfield I am very disappointed to see the University of Huddersfield directly involved with an organisation implicated in at least ten cases of torture, several of which took place while the University was training its students.

“Vice Chancellor Bob Cryan has been warned previously about the abusive nature of his business partner and has failed at act; I now expect him to personally take action to end his university’s association with this odious institution.”

The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy has written to Huddersfield University asking it to ‘immediately suspend’ the lucrative million pound course programme, but is yet to receive a reply.

You can see why.

Either the vice chancellor, reported last year to have an annual basic salary of £326,000, says he doesn’t believe the claims of torture or he has to claim that torture allegedly being meted out at the same centre as his staff’s lectures doesn’t matter.

Either way it looks bad for the vice chancellor, reflects particularly badly on the university as well as Huddersfield as a place.

But you’d expect Sir Patrick, now in his 80th year, to have a view.

It would be hard for him, of course, because he too is a local Huddersfield boy, and his connections to the university go back many years, both as a Visiting Professor of Performing Arts and as Chancellor, and later Emeritus Chancellor.

But having spoken out against dog fighting as an example of animal torture, he can hardly now stay silent when humans are involved.

Anthony Harwood is a former foreign editor of the Daily Mail.