PRESSURE was mounting last night on ministers to hold an inquiry into why a Scottish public body signed a deal with a regime accused of gross human rights abuses against women and children.
Scotland on Sunday revealed last week that the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) signed a contract with Bahrain last March while the government was violently repressing political protests.
The agreement was to set up a qualifications network and the SQA described the project as “one of the most important recent developments in education in Bahrain”.
However, critics argue the SQA should not be working with the regime, as it has been at the centre of anti-government protests since February 2011 which have led to 71 deaths.
Scottish ministers say they were unaware the SQA had negotiated a contract that will run until 2014 but have not indicated any intention to instruct the agency to pull out of the contract.
Women targeted by the government of Bahrain include Jalila al-Salman, vice president of the Bahrain Teachers’ Association, who told Scotland on Sunday she was tortured while being detained in March 2011 after leading a strike.
She claimed: “Reforms in education are driving down standards and results in schools are now being ‘faked’ to appease Bahrain’s ministry of education. Other teachers have been attacked for speaking out. Discrimination is widespread and Shia teachers are denied salary increases and promotion. Sunnis spy on Shia teachers in classroom situations. Tear gas has been fired into Shia schools as collective punishment. A new policy has been introduced to deny Shia students scholarships and 140 students have been jailed.”
A Scottish Government spokesman would only say dialogue was continuing with the SQA on “how processes and arrangement might be improved”.
Scottish Labour MSP Hugh Henry said: “The Scottish Government needs to launch an urgent inquiry into the SQA contract with Bahrain and it should report its findings to the Scottish Parliament.”
Dr Richard Simpson, a Labour MSP who hosted a pro-democracy delegation from Bahrain at the Scottish Parliament last November, said: “I was horrified at the testimony I heard, particularly over the treatment of women. There must be an inquiry into this deal.”
Sandra White, the SNP MSP, and Alison Johnstone, Green MSP and deputy convener of the Scottish Parliament’s cross-party group on human rights, also backed calls for an inquiry. Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont said: “The facts need to be aired and we want to see the Scottish Government offer a full explanation into who knew what about this contract.”
Oil-rich Bahrain, an island chain off the east coast of Saudia Arabia, is a constitutional monarchy headed by the King, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, with a predominantly Shia Muslim population and a Sunni minority.
Last night, a spokesman for the SQA said: “SQA carries out due diligence for all of its contracts. This includes risk assessments and briefings for all staff working overseas and pays due regard to current Foreign Office advice and guidelines. SQA ensures its work aligns to the Scottish Government’s international framework, which includes the sharing of our experiences and expertise in education.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said the SQA works at arm’s length from ministers, who did not know about the contract. He added: “We would expect SQA to carry out due diligence as a matter of course and to exercise sound judgment regarding its overseas dealings.
“We are in continuing dialogue about how processes and arrangements might be improved.”
No-one was available for comment at the Embassy of the Kingdom of Bahrain in London.