2 October 2018 – Yesterday, the Bahrain National Institution for Human Rights (NIHR) issued a statement denying the allegations of mistreatment reported by three women in Bahrain’s Isa Town Women’s Prison. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), and the European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) condemn the NIHR’s whitewashing of human rights abuses in the kingdom and call attention to the NIHR’s lack of independence and ability to fulfil its mandate.

One of the imprisoned women, Hajer Mansoor, is being targeted for reprisals against her son-in-law Sayed Ahmed AlWadaei, a prominent Bahraini human rights defender and the Director of Advocacy for BIRD. This targeting has recently been acknowledged by the UN-Secretary General. In prison, Hajer has reported harassment including the denial of family visits, prevention from receiving phone calls, and lack of hygiene products. Other detainees at Isa Town Women’s Prison, including Najah Ahmed Habib Yusuf and Medina Ali Ahmed Husain AbdulMohsen, have also reported acts of reprisal. All three women expressed being prevented from participating in religious rites to commemorate Ashura. Additionally, it was reported that authorities, including the head of the prison, harshly beat Hajer, Najah, and Medina and prevented them from making regular phone calls afterwards. Hajer required hospitalization from the assault.

Since the assault, the prison has further restricted rights to family visits and phone calls. Following the assault, all inmates have been locked in their cells for 24 hours and subsequently for 23 hours. Furthermore, family visits must now be conducted behind a barrier, and Hajer, Najah, and Medina are refusing to meet with their family for fear of causing distress to their children and elderly family members. Phone calls have also been limited to only two times a week as opposed to three.  Although the total duration of all phone calls remains the same, the reduction in frequency limits the ability of families to hear of the inmates’ condition and treatment with as much regularity.

The NIHR has claimed to have investigated these allegations in their statement released today. Despite reports from the women clearly detailing mistreatment, the NIHR has stated the women were “able to practice their faith and worship without undue restriction” and they found “no case of intentional denial” of visitation or telephone privileges. Even more appalling, the NIHR viewed recordings of the beatings of Hajer, Najah, and Medina and called the abuse “within reasonable use of force” and “to guarantee the safety of the inmate and others.”

“My mother-in-law is facing reprisals and mistreatment because of my human rights work,” says Director of Advocacy for BIRD Sayed Ahmed. “Hajer ended up in the hospital because of the abuse she endured at the hands of Bahraini authorities in prison, yet the NIHR claims to have looked into this and did not find the prison authorities at fault. It goes to show the lack of credibility and independence Bahrain’s whitewashing human rights institution has if it declares beatings leading to hospitalization as ‘reasonable force.’”

The NIHR systematically covers up abuses in Bahrain. The institution does not independently or credibly uphold its mandates and fails to address repeated requests for assistance. Other groups have echoed these concerns, including the United Nations Human Rights Committee which found that Bahrain is failing to meet its treaty obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, specifically noting that the NIHR “lacks sufficient independence to perform its functions” and voicing concerns about “the lack of information on complaints received and investigations carried out in response to these complaints.” Additionally, the UN Committee against Torture, and the European Parliament expressed alarm over the NIHR’s partiality and inefficacy.

“The NIHR’s investigation into the treatment of these women in Bahrain’s Isa Town Women’s Prison is absolutely egregious,” says ADHRB Executive Director Husain Abdulla. “The NIHR is heavily influenced by the Bahraini government and is used as a tool to belittle human rights violations. The claims following their supposed investigation must not be taken seriously and further investigation needs to be done by an independent and credible organization to address the reports of mistreatment by Hajer, Najah, and Medina.”

ADHRB, BIRD, and ECDHR are deeply troubled by the NIHR’s statement denying the abuses faced by Hajer, Najah, and Medina in Isa Town Women’s Prison. The statement released following their investigation further demonstrates the NIHR’s pattern of obfuscating serious human rights violations and cements the lack of ability for the institution to adequately uphold its mandate.