29 March 2017 – Over the last three months, the Government of Bahrain has intensified restrictions on inmates at Jau Prison, the country’s largest long-term male detention facility. Authorities have particularly targeted political prisoners and prisoners of conscience for increased abuse, subjecting the remaining eleven members of the “Bahrain 13” to severe deprivation of medical care. We, the undersigned, call on the Government of Bahrain to uphold the principles of medical neutrality, protect all detainees from ill treatment, and immediately release all prisoners detained solely for exercising basic rights to free expression, assembly, or association, including the Bahrain 13.
Since an escape from Jau Prison in January 2017, prison officials have escalated repressive control measures at the facility. Inmates report that the authorities have cancelled or severely limited family visits, including visitation between imprisoned relatives; ended sales from the prison shop; banned educational and Shia religious television channels; forced detainees to wear shackles when outside their cells; ignored detainee complaints; cancelled hospital appointments; and prevented detainees from accessing medical care unless they wore a uniform with shackles and consented to an invasive strip search. The authorities have also reportedly begun to lock the doors in the prison’s Building 6 for the majority of each day, preventing that building’s inmates from accessing the toilet for extended periods of time. Other prisoners have reported hearing screams from inside Building 6 since the institution of this new policy. Additionally, the authorities temporarily suspended prisoners’ access to communication during and after the 15 January execution of three torture victims by arbitrarily prohibiting visits and phone calls. The prison administration has also banned inmates from access to newspapers since those sentences were carried out. Members of the Bahrain 13, a group of human rights defenders and political activists who were tortured and imprisoned for their involvement in the 2011 pro-democracy movement, have been denied access to pencils and paper, as well as toilet tissue.
These new restrictions have led to a further deterioration of Jau’s already poor living conditions, severely impacting the health of the inmate population. Several members of the Bahrain 13 have been particularly harmed by consistent medical neglect.
Earlier this month, human rights defender and political activist Abduljalil al-Singace, who suffers from post-polio syndrome and is confined to crutches or a wheelchair, fainted and was transferred to the prison clinic before being rushed to the Bahrain Defense Force (BDF) military hospital. Doctors informed al-Singace that he was severely dehydrated and that the condition had affected his brain and lungs; he was prescribed several medications and advised to drink fluids. However, since the diagnosis, prison authorities have refused to bring al-Singace to his scheduled appointments unless he wore a prison uniform and allowed himself to be shackled. Al-Singace did not consent to these new measures. The authorities continued to prevent him from accessing treatment until he vomited and again fainted, whereupon they transferred him to a hematologist. Al-Singace requires continued monitoring and testing. His family has been unable to see him. The authorities have consistently denied al-Singace, who is serving a life sentence, access to medical care, including equipment for his crutches.
Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, human rights defender and cofounder of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) who is sentenced to life in prison, has begun to suffer from a serious new condition in his right eye, including complete loss of vision after nightfall and significant vision impairment during the day. He also suffers from headaches and pain behind the affected eye. Medical experts suggest that this could be a symptom of blood clotting and a possible sign of more severe issues, such as an impending stroke. Despite his need for emergency treatment, the authorities have denied al-Khawaja’s requests to attend his appointments without undergoing an extensive strip search and wearing shackles. He submitted a letter to the authorities requesting a new appointment without these restrictive measures, but he has received no response. Al-Khawaja requires an immediate professional examination to prevent complications. Officials have also repeatedly denied him treatment for a separate medical condition that causes him chronic pain in his face.
“Depriving political prisoners, such as Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, of medical care when it is urgently needed is a blatant illustration of the government’s shameless disregard for basic human rights,” said Vice-President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) Said Yousif al-Muhafdha. “But this also pinpoints the lack of true international response to Bahrain’s series of reprisals.”
Hassan Mushaima, the nearly 70-year-old leader of the banned Haq opposition group, is also serving a life sentence in Jau and has suffered from routine deprivation of medical care by the authorities. Among a number of other medical conditions, Mushaima is in remission from cancer, which requires routine monitoring including tests every six months. However, it has been more than eight months since officials last allowed him to be tested. The new restrictions at Jau have additionally prevented Mushaima from receiving adequate medical care for his other ailments, such as a deviated septum.
“The Bahraini government has taken a dizzying number of new repressive steps since the start of 2017, including executions and a de facto martial law,” said Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), “This sudden slew of reprisals against inmates and particularly the Bahrain 13 serves no other purpose than to intimidate and collectively punish prisoners of conscience.”
On 16 March 2017, Mohammad Sahwan, a victim of police abuse in 2012, died of sudden cardiac arrest while serving a 15-year sentence stemming from terror charges based on a forced confession. Sahwan is the first political detainee to die in Jau Prison since 2011, and his funeral was met with excessive force by security forces. Similarly, in 2016, detainee Hassan Al-Hayki died amid credible allegations of torture and deprivation of medical care at the Dry Dock Detention Center.
“Prison conditions have long been abysmal in Bahrain, and now the government is barely even meeting its bare minimum obligation to provide detainees with life-saving medical care,” said Husain Abdulla, Executive Director of Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB). “Be it from torture or medical neglect, not one more person should have to die in a jail cell due to government malfeasance.”
The arbitrary intensification of restrictions on mobility and healthcare at Jau Prison – in addition to generally poor living conditions and regular physical abuse within the facility – violates the principle of medical neutrality and needlessly endangers the inmate population. We therefore call on the Government of Bahrain to ensure timely and easy access to medical treatment for all detainees, and to immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience, such as the remaining Bahrain 13. We call for an open invitation by the UN Special Rapporteur on torture.
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)
Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)