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A HANDCUFF manufacturer in Birmingham is being accused of "fuelling oppression" over allegations that its products are being used to restrain political prisoners at a notorious Bahraini jail.
The criticism comes as Parliament this week debated Britain's links to repression in the Gulf kingdom.
The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) has told the Morning Star that detainees at Jau prison, which houses leaders of the Arab Spring uprising, are now required to wear British-made handcuffs from TCH England when they are taken to the sick bay.
Bahrain’s King Hamad cracked down heavily on pro-democracy rallies in 2011 and jailed several protest organisers for life.
These included opposition leader Hassan Mushaima, 70, a cancer survivor with serious ongoing health conditions. He says guards often refuse to administer his medication if he does not wear the handcuffs.
The prison, which is notorious for torture, also includes death row inmates — causing concern that they could be shackled to walls with British handcuffs during their execution by firing squad.
Bahrain executed three men from Jau Prison last year, before the British handcuffs were supplied. A UN expert described their deaths as “extra-judicial killings.”
Their death sentences were widely seen as politically motivated and one of the trio was related to opposition leader Hassan Mushaima.
BIRD claims that since those executions the prison guards have started using chain handcuffs engraved with “TCH England, TCH 800.”
This is an acronym for Total Control Handcuffs, a UK limited company based in Birmingham.
The company’s operations director, Geoff Cross, refused to comment on the allegations and said “the position with us is that we have a company policy where everything is commercial in confidence.”
The company’s website says it sells “the most comprehensive range of restraint equipment in the world.” The webpages are translated into four foreign languages including Arabic, suggesting that they are soliciting customers in the Middle East.
Mr Cross said the company’s website was “international” and refused to answer questions about the alleged supply of their handcuffs to Jau prison.
The company used to be known as Hiatt until its closure in 2008. Accounts filed at Companies House show that Hiatt is now a subsidiary of TCH. Mr Cross was previously a chairman of Hiatt.
Hiatt traces it history back to the 18th century and is reported to have supplied “nigger collars” to slave owners and traders.
In the 1990s, Hiatt leg irons were reportedly used in Saudi Arabian prisons, including during beheading and torture.
More recently, Hiatt handcuffs were used to shackle British citizen Moazzam Begg at Guantanamo Bay.
The latest allegations about the company’s customers have caused consternation among Bahraini exiles in Britain.
Hassan Mushaima’s son, Ali, has been on hunger strike outside the Bahrain Embassy in London’s Belgrave Square since the start of August, as reported in the Morning Star.
He is demanding medical treatment for his imprisoned father and appears to have won some concessions from the Bahraini authorities, which released a statement on his treatment.
During the hunger strike Hassan Mushaima was suddenly given some of his medication without wearing the handcuffs, although Ali says his father is still being denied family visits and access to books.
Ali has now been joined on hunger strike by Zainab Al-Khawaja, whose father Abdulhadi is also serving a life sentence in Jau prison for his part in the Arab Spring protests. He is the former president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights.
BIRD advocacy director Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei said: “The testimonies of victims of abusive treatment at Jau Prison suggests that those handcuffs are used to facilitate the degrading and ill treatment of prisoners, such as the elderly Hassan Mushaima.
“We urge the British government to end its complicity and ensure that British companies are held accountable for providing equipment that has direct human rights implications."
Export licences are not always required for handcuffs, and a Department for International Trade spokesperson said: “The government has not approved the export of controlled handcuffs to Bahrain in the past three years.
“Risks around human rights violations are a key part of our assessment against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria. We do not export equipment where we assess there is a clear risk that it might be used for internal repression.”
Campaign Against the Arms Trade media coordinator Andrew Smith said: “The lack of transparency in the arms trade means that companies can do deals with brutal and oppressive dictatorships, like the regime in Bahrain, with minimal oversight and consequences.
“It's time to end the culture and the secrecy that have allowed British companies to fuel oppression around the world.”
Bahrain’s interior ministry did not respond when contacted for comment.
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