The SQA first struck a deal with the Middle East island country in 2010 to help develop its education system. Soon afterwards protests against the government, part of the Arab Spring uprisings, were crushed.
Last March the SQA signed a further contract as the violence continued, according to a report in Scotland on Sunday. The SQA confirmed this to SecEd but defended the deal as likely to benefit citizens.
Amnesty International (AI) in Scotland said it had “very serious concerns” about Bahrain and organisations should consider the political situation before entering into commercial contracts with the government.
Mark Bevan of AI said dozens of 15 to 17-year-olds had been held in adult prisons and detention centres in Bahrain. Child detainees had alleged they were beaten and some had also been forced to sign “confessions”.
However, John McMorris, a director of SQA who heads its international work, said: “SQA is working in partnership with the government of Bahrain to create a national qualifications framework which will enhance the education system of the country to the benefit of the citizens.”
The SQA is working with two government departments, he added: Tamkeen (the labour funding agency for Bahrain) and the National Authority for Qualifications & Quality Assurance of Education and Training (NAQQAET).
“SQA carries out due diligence for all of its contracts,” Mr McMorris said. “This includes risk assessments and briefings for all staff working overseas and pays due regard to current Foreign Office advice and guidelines.”
The Scottish government said it had not been informed of the SQA deal last March. At the time it joined Westminster in condemning the violence against peaceful demonstrators and activists.
“Because SQA is an arm’s length body, ministers are not routinely informed of all contractual arrangements,” a spokesman said. Ministers were aware that the agency undertook a range of commercial activity in several countries, he added.
The contract in Bahrain is due to run until 2014.