Bahrain: Inhumane Conditions for Political Prisoners and Human Rights Defenders
On the occasion of Nelson Mandela International Day 2017, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) whose President Nabeel Rajab has been described as being “the next Nelson Mandela”, is releasing a brief regarding Bahrain’s treatment of activists and political prisoners in Bahrain. The information is based on data collected from the start of this year. According to reports from the ground, BCHR was able to document the harsh conditions that these prisoners are kept in, contrary to the the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, or the Nelson Mandela Rules.
Bahrain’s largest male penitentiary is Jau prison. On 1 January armed men attacked the prison, freeing a number of inmates convicted for terrorism crimes and killing one security officer in the process. Following the escape, family members, human rights groups and prisoners stated that the prison conditions worsened significantly for the remaining political prisoners. According to their testimonies, prisoners in Building 7 were shackled when they left their cells, including for medical related purposes. In protest to the degrading practices inflicted by prison authorities, such as strip-searching inmates before attending medical appointments, prisoners refused to take part in meetings with medical staff despite facing serious consequences of poor physical health.
Family members of prisoners from other buildings have stated that when prisoners were not shackled, they spent most of their time locked in their cells with limited or no access to toilets. As reported in March this year, the family visitation times had also been shortened from an hour to half an hour once every two-three weeks. Previously, in June 2016, telephone allowance was cut from 40 minutes to 30 minutes per week.
The practices implemented by security forces, of shackling the prisoners for long periods of time and restricting their freedoms, go against the UN specification of standard minimum rules. As such, rule 47 states that “the use of chains, irons or other instruments of restraint which are inherently degrading or painful shall be prohibited” except in circumstances in which the prisoner is transferred into a different facility or when the prison director gives a short-term order for such actions. Rule 36 specifies that discipline and order shall be kept within the prison by no such means as through the restriction of prisoners’ rights and freedoms.
Most prisoners jailed because of their activism are at a severe risk regarding their physical and mental health because of Bahrain’s poor record on allowing them access to proper medical care and on restricting access to or communication with family members.
Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja (56), Human Rights Defender and former President of BCHR, who has served six years of his life sentence, is at imminent risk of losing his sight. According to family reports on his health back in March this year, Al-Khawaja had lost vision in his right eye during daylight hours and has headaches on the right side of his head and behind his right eye. The prison authorities did not allow him to go to his medical consultation without being bodily searched and shackled. Al-Khawaja refused to go because of the invasive nature of the practices. He has also repeatedly gone on hunger strikes in protest of the poor conditions his fellow inmates are subjected to in Jau prison.
Based on his family’s testimony Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace (55), who needs crutches or a wheelchair because he suffers from sickle-cell anemia and polio, did not go to his medical appointment on March 12, because the prison authorities insisted he needed to be shackled.
In May, family members of Mohamed Hassan Jawad (69) and Hasan Mshaima (69) reported that they had also refused to go to their medical appointments in protest of the authorities’ insistence that they be shackled and wear the prison uniform. Mshaima, who is a cancer survivor, had not had his Position Emission Tomography (PET) in eight months at the time of the reporting, although he is required to have it every six months.
Abdulwahab Hussain (58), who has been subjected to torture and mistreatment during his imprisonment, has been consistently denied access to medical facilities, despite the fact that he suffers from chronic neurological disorder.
Mohammed Habib Al-Miqdad (51) has been convicted in June 2011 to life in prison and since then has developed difficulty ingesting food as a result of the torture and injury that he has received to his abdomen. Prior to the diagnostic being given, Al-Miqdad suffered a year from acute stomach pain before the authorities allowed him treatment.
Denying access to medical facilities to imprisoned individuals is in direct violation of Rule 27 and 31 of the Nelson Mandela Rules. These two rules stipulate that inmates must have equal and unrestricted access to medical facilities, immediate access in case of medical emergencies and that medical professionals must be able to effectuate daily visits to their patients, if necessary, on a daily basis. Denying medical access to prisoners can lead to worsening medical conditions or risk to the individual’s life.
On 16 March 2017, Mohammad Sahwan died of sudden cardiac arrest while serving his 15-year sentence for terror charges. Sahwan is the first political prisoner to die in Jau prison since 2011. His funeral procession, to which thousands of individuals gathered in mourning, was met with excessive force by security forces who attacked the crowd with tear gas and fired birdshot pellets at demonstrators.
Most recently, Women’s Rights Defender Ebtisam Al-Saegh was arrested from her home without a warrant on 3 July. This is the second time she is arrested in the last months. On 26 May, she was interrogated for seven hours in Muharraq at the National Security Agency (NSA) building and, upon her release, had to be immediately hospitalised. She later stated that she had been beaten all over her body, kicked in the head and stomach, sexually abused by her interrogators, and that she was threatened with the safety of her family. BCHR believes that Al-Saegh is currently in grave danger of being tortured and sexually abused by security services.
A number of the 175 recommendations from the UN-UPR review this year were made in relation to prison conditions in Bahrain, the releasing of prisoners of conscience and the investigation of allegations of prisoner mistreatment and torture. As such, the recommendations asked for the unconditional release of arbitrarily arrested individuals and of human rights defenders, such as BCHR’s President Nabeel Rajab. Regarding prison conditions, the recommendations asked for the immediate end of use of torture, discrimination and other forms of impunity against detained individuals. The UN-UPR also recommended that Bahrain strenghtens and support the independence of the local human rights bodies tasked with investigating and prosecuting individuals responsible of mistreating and torturing prisoners.
BCHR is also concerned about the reportedly increased human rights restrictions and violations that are taking place in Bahraini prisons. Locking inmates in their cells for prolonged periods of time, restricting their access to bathrooms, keeping them shackled when out of their cells, shortening visitation and telephoning periods can have a long-lasting negative impact of the detained person’s mental and physical health.
The BCHR call on Bahrain to
- release immediately and unconditionally all persons detained or convicted on charges related to their fundamental human rights, including their freedoms of expression and assembly;
- Ensure that prison authorities conform to Rules 27, 31, 36, 47 and all other rules as stipulated in the Nelson Mandela Rules;
- Allow the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture into the country to conduct an independent investigation in relations to prison conditions and the use of torture in detention facilities;
- Ensure the independence and well-functioning of the Prisoners and Detainees Rights Commission (PDRC), the Ombudsman, the National Institute for Human Rights, and the Special Investigations Unit so that they can take the necessary steps to investigate and prosecute all individuals and groups found guilty of mistreating or ailing in the mistreatment of detained individuals