Bahrain: Continued Poor Prison Conditions Lack Serious Reforms
04 FEB 2013
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) express concern over the continued deterioration of prisoner conditions in Bahrain, and the lack of real reform in the prison system apart from superficial changes made during visits from outside observers. The BCHR continues to receive complaints from prisoners and their families that confirm the lack of compliance with the standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners.
The BCHR met with families of several detainees at the Dry Dock detention center (a temporary detention facility) and the central prison (Jaw) and present the following findings regarding the condition of the prisons:
The Dry Dock Detention Center:
The prisoners complained about lack of warm bathing warm water in the cold season when the water becomes too cold to be used.
The toilets become blocked and overflow, which causes serious hygienic concerns.
The available drinking water is of very poor quality, and the prisoners need to buy bottled water.
There are restrictions on the religious freedoms, and prisoners were not allowed to hold their religious rituals during Muharram. When prisoners held their ceremonies in spite of these restrictions, they were assaulted by guards inside their prison cell during Muharam.
Medical care is lacking, or non-existent. One prisoner, who is twenty years old and wished to have his name withheld, suffers from root canal problems for which he has not been allowed to receive treatment. He has been in detention since July 2012, and has only been offered pain killers.
Ali Ebrahim Al-Saegh (18 years old) who has been in detention since 14 Nov 2012, is not allowed to visit to the prison clinic in order to receive treatment for one of his injuries.
Prisoners and their families face trouble and harassment during visits. The family of one prisoner stated that he was humiliated and threatened with physical abuse in front of his family during visitation hours on a number of occasions. Multiple families stated that they are being searched in a humiliating manner before the start of the visit, which has caused some members of the family psychological trauma post each visit.
Another family said that their visit was cancelled simply because their detained son stood across the long brick separating him from his family to hug his mother.
The two brothers Yasser Abdullah Al-Gashra (23 years old) and Sadiq Abdullah Al-Gasra (20 years old) who were detained together since April 2012 were getting only one hour of visitation for both of them instead of two hours (one for each). According to their family they were humiliated in front their family and were receiving punishment when the family protest against the humiliation. In one incident the mother was insulted in front of the imprisoned son, and when he responded, the guards handcuffed him. The two brothers protested by refusing visitation to spare their mother and family the humiliation, they are on "no-visitation strike" since the past 3 weeks. They see their family only during court sessions.
Communication with the lawyer is restricted or not allowed.
One prisoner who is a high school student said that he was not allowed to take his exams.
The Prisoners complained about a lack of warm water for bathing during the cold season, when the water becomes too cold to be used. Given the high number of prisoners in Jaw prison (estimated to be over 1,300) the warm water supply is quickly finished, and is not sufficent to accommodate the needs of all prisoners.
The prisoners are not provided with appropriately warm clothing during the winter. When families brought in winter clothing, the prison authorities removed the warm inner lining from the clothing, and rendered it useless for warming.
The prisoners described the food as “not good”. The supplies of bread and sandwiches which they used to buy in order to supplement the standard ration of food are no longer available. The drinking water is not hygienic and not suitable to use. Prisoners need to buy water from the prison canteen, which is only allowed on a weekly basis. There is not a sufficient supply of bottled water for all of the prisoners.
There are restrictions on the books the prisoners are allowed to receive, and even non-political books sent by family members are only allowed into the prison if the on-duty guard approves. Such personal decisions should not be allowed to dictate the content of the books allowed into the prison, as it has been in the case of Mohammed Sahwan, who is serving a 15 years sentence in Jaw prison.
Medical Care Mohammed Sahwan (35 years old) is a victim of serious shotgun injury, and has more than 80 shotgun pellets lodged in his face and head, according to his medical report. Sahwan is still deprived of the proper medical treatment that he requires.
Because of the pellets in his head, Sahwan suffers from severe migraine headaches, which are increasingly painful in the cold weather. His request to be provided with a warm hat was denied first, but it was provided later. He is not allowed to receive the prescribed medications for the pain he suffers.
Doctors at the military hospital declined to perform the surgery that is necessary to improve his condition because they say that represents a serious risk, and might lead to his death. Salmaniya hospital agreed to conduct the operation, which they say will deform his face and head because of the cuts they will need to make in order to remove the pellets. Further plastic surgery would be necessary to hide the many scars this procedure will cause. The family is worried and demands to be able to seek medical treatment outside of Bahrain. (More info on his case: http://www.bahrainrights.org/en/node/5392)
Visits and Communication Families have complained about being humiliated during prison visits. Baby milk is not allowed during visits for the babies who are brought to see their detained fathers, such as in the case of Mohammed Sahwan’s infant daughter.
Visits are subject to cancellation without a prior notification. One family stated that after 22 days without visitation, and after the family confirmed the visit before going to the prison in the morning, they were informed by a police officer after arriving at the prison that the visit had been cancelled. The family protested at the entrance gate and refused to leave without seeing their son, fearing that the sudden cancelation may be a result of the prison authorities’ wish to hide their son’s condition. This happened twice to the family.
In the past, eight family members were allowed to visit a prisoner, but the rule has changed to allow only six members. This restriction deprives some member of larger families from visitation rights.
During prisoners’ calls to their families, the phones are closely monitored and families can hear insults from the guards whenever they speak about the political situation.
Extra Punishment/Solitary Confinement One family stated that their son was beaten by guards in his cell along with another prisoner, and that he was placed in solitary confinement for several days because he was involved in a clash with the guards following an allegation that a guard sexually harassed a young prisoner. The family described the solitary confinement as an old and abandoned toilet, which was plagued with hygienic problems and insects. Confinement in this location caused the prisoner to have an allergic reaction and break out in a rash.
Hundreds of prisoners' sentenced provisions are in Jaw Central Prison, with hundreds others in other prisons, such as the Dry Dock prison. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights has reported previously on the poor conditions in prisons, which show no signs of improvement. For further information, see:
- Report of January 2012 http://bahrainrights.hopto.org/en/node/4986
- Report of December 2011 http://bahrainrights.hopto.org/en/node/4934
- Report of November 2011 http://bahrainrights.hopto.org/en/node/4815
The BCHR draws attention the international conventions concerning the protection of persons subjected to detention and imprisonment, in particular that "all persons under any form of detention or imprisonment shall be treated in a humane manner and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person", the BCHR urges the Bahraini government and all relevant authorities to take prompt action to ensure the rights of detainees and prisoners in Bahrain, including:
1. Regular and sudden inspection of prisons and places of detention by representatives of the competent international organizations in addition to independent local organizations and authorities with qualified inspectors who are both honest and experienced. Also, to reform prisoners’ situation while they are in detention, and to prosecute any administrative official or guard involved in human rights violations.
2. Full compliance with article 31 of "the standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners" issued by the United Nations, which stipulates that: "Corporal punishment, punishment by placing in a dark cell, and all cruel, inhuman or degrading punishments shall be completely prohibited as punishments for disciplinary offences."Basic principles for the treatment of prisoners recommends that "efforts addressed to the abolition of solitary confinement as a punishment, or to the restriction of its use, should be undertaken and encouraged. Under "standard minimum rules", it is stipulated in article 29 that "the following shall always be determined by the law or by the regulation of the competent administrative authority: ( a ) Conduct constituting a disciplinary offence; ( b ) The types and duration of punishment which may be inflicted; ( c ) The authority competent to impose such punishment. "Article (30) States that "no prisoner shall be punished unless he has been informed of the offence alleged against him and given a proper opportunity of presenting his defense. The competent authority shall conduct a thorough examination of the case." Where article (33) states that "instruments of restraint, such as handcuffs, chains, irons and strait-jackets, shall never be applied as a punishment."
3. Improve daily living conditions as article (60) of the "standard minimum rules" states that: "The regime of the institution should seek to minimize any differences between prison life and life at liberty which tend to lessen the responsibility of the prisoners or the respect due to their dignity as human beings. Article (10) states that: "all accommodation provided for the use of prisoners and in particular all sleeping accommodation shall meet all requirements of health, and particularly to cubic content of air, minimum floor space, lighting, heating and ventilation."
4. Provide prisoners with bathing equipment in relation with temperature as provided in Article (13): “Adequate bathing and shower installations shall be provided so that every prisoner may be enabled and required to have a bath or shower, at a temperature suitable to the climate, as frequently as necessary for general hygiene according to season and geographical region, but at least once a week in a temperate climate.”
5. Allow prisoners to have clothing adequate to the weather specially during the cold weather as Article (17) provides that: “Every prisoner who is not allowed to wear his own clothing shall be provided with an outfit of clothing suitable for the climate and adequate to keep him in good health. Such clothing shall in no manner be degrading or humiliating.”
6. Improve the food and water provided to prisoners as stated in Article (20): (1) Every prisoner shall be provided by the administration at the usual hours with food of nutritional value adequate for health and strength, of wholesome quality and well prepared and served. (2) Drinking water shall be available to every prisoner whenever he needs it.
7. Allow the prisoners to have at least one hour outdoor work as provided in Article (21): “Every prisoner who is not employed in outdoor work shall have at least one hour of suitable exercise in the open air daily if the weather permits.”
8. Provide ill and injured prisoners with the medical care they need as provided in Article (22) “Sick prisoners who require specialist treatment shall be transferred to specialized institutions or to civil hospitals. Where hospital facilities are provided in an institution, their equipment, furnishings and pharmaceutical supplies shall be proper for the medical care and treatment of sick prisoners, and there shall be a staff of suitable trained officers.”
9. To ensure the rights of prisoner regarding contact with the outside world with respect to access to his family and friends, as stipulated in article (37) of the "standard minimum rules". It must be in accordance with article (39) "Prisoners shall be kept informed regularly of the more important items of news by the reading of newspapers, periodicals or special institutional publications, by hearing wireless transmissions, by lectures or by any similar means as authorized or controlled by the administration.", and with the development of media it’s done through radio and television stations as well.
10. Providing books to prisoners pursuant to article 40 of the "standard minimum rules" states that "Every institution shall have a library for the use of all categories of prisoners, adequately stocked with both recreational and instructional books, and prisoners shall be encouraged to make full use of it" and allow prisoners to bring such books. According to the article (77): "Provision shall be made for the further education of all prisoners capable of profiting thereby, including religious instruction in the countries where this is possible. The education of illiterates and young prisoners shall be compulsory and special attention shall be paid to it by the administration" and article (78): "recreational and cultural activities shall be provided in all institutions for the benefit of the mental and physical health of prisoners."
11. Allow prisoners to practice their religious rituals freely, pursuant to article 42 of the "standard minimum rules" which states that "every prisoner shall be allowed to satisfy the needs of his religious life … and having in his possession the books of religious observance and instruction of his denomination."
12. To ensure that the quality of prison staff, in accordance with article (46) of the "standard minimum rules," "the prison administration shall provide for the careful selection of every grade of the personnel, since it is on their integrity, humanity, professional capacity and personal suitability for the work that the proper administration of the institutions depends.” Article (50) states that "the director of an institution should be adequately qualified for his task by character, administrative ability, suitable training and experience. He shall devote his entire time to his official duties and shall not be appointed on a part-time basis."
13. Bahrain must sign the Optional Protocol against Torture, which involved that there will be a standing committee to visit the prisons and that the visits could be sudden. This would make a practical step forward that would demonstrate the seriousness of the authorities’ intentions to improve prison conditions.
Finally, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights urges the Bahraini authorities to release all prisoners who have been arrested or sentenced for reasons relating to the exercise of their freedoms and fundamental rights.