The Bahraini Ministry of Interior continues to detain a mother and her premature son. The child – who is six months old and in fragile health – and his mother are being held on charges related to freedom of assembly. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) call for the immediate release of Zahra Al-Shaikh and her son, Hussein Habib Mubarak.

The Al-Shaikh family informed the BCHR that their 24 year-old daughter Zahra Al-Shaikh was arrested along with her infant child from al-Hodh al-Jaf Prison on Saturday 27 October 2014, as she visited her husband Habib Mubarak, who is being detained on charges related to his alleged involvement in an arson case. Al-Shaikh’s arrest came after a sentence was upheld by an appeals court on 20 January 2014 against her on charges of unlawful assembly in the capital city of Manama. She was previously detained in 2012 for 4 months on similar charges; however, she was released on bail during her trial. It should also be mentioned that Al-Shaikh was transferred to a psychiatric hospital after her mental health deteriorated due to the stressful conditions during her first detention. Her family fears that the current state of her mental health could deteriorate further during her present detention.

The aforementioned NGOs are concerned that the conditions of the family’s current detention are unsuitable, due in part to the fact that Zahra was extremely distressed during her family’s most recent visit to see her in prison. Zahra’s family claims that she was unable to speak throughout the visit and was inconsolable.

Zahra Al-Shaikh’s son, Hussein Habib Mubarak, has suffered numerous illnesses since birth, and consequently has a weakened immune system. As a result of his weakened state, he has specific healthcare and nutritional needs, which cannot be met in the women’s prison where he is being detained with his mother. The prison administration has refused to provide the necessary food that meets the child’s dietary requirements, and has not provided a reason for their failure to meet these needs.

BCHR has previously published a report regarding unsuitable conditions of prisons, particularly during the extreme weather experienced during the summer and winter months. In January 2014, the detained human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja reported that the rancid smell of the holding cells had forced prisoners to keep the air-conditioning system on despite the cold weather – this caused numerous health problems among the women.

ADHRB, BCHR and BIRD believe that Al-Shaikh’s detention on charges of unlawful assembly is a deliberate violation of the internationally agreed right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression as enshrined in Article 19 of the International Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers” and Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that “The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

The aforementioned organizations call on Bahrain’s allies to ensure that the Government of Bahrain:

  • Immediately release Zahra Al-Shaikh and her son and drop the charges against her related to freedom of assembly.
  • End the practice of bringing charges against dissidents and violating their human rights in relation to freedom of expression and assembly, in an attempt to silence their criticism of the government.
  • Dramatically improve the conditions inside the Bahraini prisons, and ensure that all detainees are guaranteed access to adequate healthcare and nutrition.