Bill Law’s latest report for the BBC – Bahrain: Policing Protest
In his new film for the BBC, Bill Law reports from Bahrain on “The Police and The Protesters”. It was not an easy report to film. Law notes difficulties in getting a visa, that their camera was impounded at the airport, that they were followed by secret police and that they were detained twice whilst in Bahrain. The film also – inadvertently – reveals that a Danish company, Milestone Systems, has provided the Ministry of Interior (MOI) with software to monitor its new network of CCTV cameras. Milestone’s website further discloses that they recently gave Bahraini firm Spectra Information Technology an award for its work with the MOI in 2012. This was likely given for Spectra’s work installing CCTV in Bahrain’s police stations.
The MOI has come under frequent criticism for its failure to implement the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), regarding internal reform and accountability for violations. The MOI rejects such criticisms. Speaking to Bill Law, Bahrain’s Chief of Police Tarik al-Hassan claimed: “The reform of the police in Bahrain have gone beyond the requirements of the BICI”. He then noted the installation of CCTV cameras in police stations as evidence of this.
The MOI regularly states their installation of CCTV as proof that it has implemented BICI recommendation 1722g. This recommendation requires the “audiovisual recordings of all official interviews with detainees”. CCTV has, indeed, been installed in police stations. However, that has not stopped the torture and mistreatment of detainees. Instead, it has simply changed the locations where such torture and mistreatment occurs.
After 2011, security officers began using secret detention sites to abuse detainees. As noted by the US State Department, these sites were located in “a youth hostel and a tent near the Exhibition Center in the Capital Governorate, an equestrian center in the Northern Governorate, and other locations in the Central and Muharraq governorates”. As well as these unofficial sites, detainees have increasingly reported being tortured in the Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID) building. For example, media fixer and blogger Mohamed Hassen and photojournalist Hussain Hubail both allege that they were tortured in the CID building after their recent arrest. Human rights defender Naji Fateel also alleges that he was tortured there, following his arrest in May.
Prisoner abuse has even been captured on camera. In June, a policeman uploaded a disturbing video to YouTube showing a young man giving a confession under duress. The young man is shirtless, clearly distressed and has a wound on his left shoulder. In his report for the BBC, Bill Law questioned the Chief of Police about this incident. He said he was “outraged” by what happened and that the policeman in question was suspended and is facing charges. However, when asked if a CCTV camera captured the incident, al-Hassan replied: “Well, that was not in the interview room. That was in the corridor and now we have a plan to have all corridors fixed with CCTV”.
Law’s interview with Tarik al-Hassan is revealing in another way. Whilst visiting the MOI, Law is shown a large flat screen on the wall where all the new CCTV cameras can be monitored:
The MOI’s screen is running a program called XProtect Smart Client by Danish firm Milestone Systems. This image, taken from a corporate website, shows gives a clearer version of a typical XProtect display:
Spectra Information Technology is based in Bahrain. It specialises in “Security Surveillance and Wireless Communication”. One of the services it provides is “IP CCTV Systems”. Last May, Milestone named Spectra “Best Performing Partner of 2011” in the GCC.
On April 30th-May 2nd 2013, Milestone held a “Milestone Open Partner” event in Abu Dhubai. There, Spectra Information Technology was given an award as one of two of 2012’s “Best Projects of the Year” for its work with the Bahrain Ministry of Interior. Spectra has posted a picture of the award on its website, adding that it was given for “one of the projects with MOI” (emphasis mine). There is no other mention of Spectra’s work for the MOI on its website.
This was not the first award Spectra has received for its work with the Bahrain government. In December 2012, German firm MOBOTIX AG named Spectra’s Salminaya Medical Complex CCTV project as “Project of the Year” in the Middle East and North Africa. Tender documents reveal that Spectra was awarded BD322,000 (US$ 854,110) for a contract with the Ministry of Health in December 2011. Last year, it also bidded for CCTV contracts with the the Central Informatics Organisations (CIO), the Ministry of Education and Bahrain Polytechnic.
Spectra appears to have also done work for the Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs. On February 28th, 2012, Attorney General Dr. Ali Fadhel Al-Buainain wrote to Deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Mubarak Al-Khalifa, saying: “the Public Prosecution agreed with Spectra Information Technology to provide the 60 interrogation rooms in the headquarter of the Public Prosecution with the necessary technical equipment for audio and visual recordings”. In reference to Spectra, he added: “This is the same company that signed a contract with the Ministry of Interior”.
The MOI’s new CCTV system in police stations was first outlined in the government’s BICI follow-up report, which was issued in March 2012. It said that 60 cameras had been ordered from a Germany company. This company has not been named, however it is possible that it is MOBOTIX, the company that gave Spectra an award for its work fitting CCTV in Salminaya Medical Complex.
Based in Langmeil, Germany, MOBOTIX describes itself as the “leading pioneer in network camera technology”. MOBOTIX is one of Spectra’s “major security partners”. Spectra is also a “certified System Integrator” for MOBOTIX (as well as Swedish firm Axis). MOBOTIX has also done work for Bahrain Defence Hospital, as revealed in a company brochure.
The Ministry of Interior now plans to install CCTV in “all public areas within prisons and detention facilities, such as buildings, cellblocks, and hall ways”, following a recommendation by the new Police Ombudsman. Some of the above named companies could well benefit from this expansion of the CCTV project. However, as Bill Law notes wryly in his voiceover to the BBC report: “You have to wonder if … installing more cameras really addresses the culture of impunity”.
UPDATE: A photograph taken last year shows that at least some of the CCTV cameras in the streets of Bahrain have been provided by Swedish firm Axis Communications. The logo visible on the camera matches Axis’s logo, as further confirmed by the original photographer.
Axis established a regional office in Dubai, UAE several years ago. In 2011, the office had “links to more than 900 partners who provide up to 80 per cent of the company’s business”. It also runs “local training programmes”.
Spectra Information Technology is Axis’s sole reseller in Bahrain. It is listed as an “Axis Solution Partner Gold” and in 2012, Axis awarded Spectra “Authorized Partner of the Year 2011” for the Middle East.