Image of a woman human rights campaigner waving Bahraini flag (behind her)


Bahrain is an island in the Persian Gulf. It has been ruled by the Al Khalifa family for more than 200 years. The UK has a long history of colonial intervention in Bahrain, which declared its independence in 1971.

Last updated 27 September 2020


In February 2011, mass pro-democracy protests were violently suppressed. Security forces killed and injured protesters. One of the main weapons used was tear gas. Physicians for Human Rights said its use was “unprecedented in the 100-year history of tear gas use against civilians”. In the following crackdown, hundreds of people were unjustly detained. Torture and ill-treatment of prisoners was “systematic.”

The government crackdown was supported by the Saudi Arabian National Guard. These forces entered Bahrain in March, in armoured vehicles made in the UK by BAE Systems.

Since then Bahrain has become “one of the Middle East’s most repressive states” according to Freedom House. Basic freedoms have been restricted, and political opposition has been dismantled.

Bahrain is also currently a member of the Saudi-led coalition involved in the war in Yemen. It supplies ground forces and takes part in bombing.

Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy

BIRD works with NGOs, the British-Bahraini community, Bahraini activists, and the UK public to promote human rights and effective accountability in Bahrain.


UK military relationship & arms supplies

The UK is a steady supplier of arms to Bahrain and would like to sell more. The government lists Bahrain as a ‘core’ market for arms sales, despite its human rights record.

UK arms export licences were temporarily withdrawn during the repression of 2011 after huge public outcry, but business returned to normal as soon as possible. The UK government continued to license the sale of weaponry used in repression.

Other UK sales include Fighter Trainer aircraft and transport aircraft, and there was a major (unsuccessful) push to sell Eurofighter Typhoon combat aircraft to Bahrain in 2013. The UK government has also provided training to the Bahraini military and internal security forces.

In recent years the UK has renewed its military involvement in the Persian Gulf, involving a permanent new military and ‘security’ presence. War on Want has documented this “new British imperialism“. The UK has signed new military and ‘security’ agreements with Bahrain and completed a new naval base in 2018.

This relationship, and the business interests of arms companies, has led the UK government to offer uncritical support for the repressive Bahraini regime.

Bahrain’s allies have opted for a disastrous policy of appeasement and acquiescence, and they have remained largely silent in the face of human rights violations that they would loudly denounce were they taking place in a less strategically important country.

Nicholas McGeehan, Human Rights Watch, September 2014


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