3 December 2018 – Today, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) observes United Nations (UN) International Day of Persons with Disabilities, established by the UN to promote the rights of persons with disabilities and provide a platform for awareness in civil, political, social, economic, and cultural society. On this day, ADHRB calls attention to the continued abuse perpetrated against individuals with disabilities in the Arab Gulf, specifically in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. We urge the two Gulf kingdoms to put an end to the abuse of disabled persons and to provide them their full rights under international law, including access to medical treatment.
Both Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are party to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Under Articles 4, 15, 16, and 25, discrimination against individuals with disabilities in access to justice is prohibited, as is torture and ill treatment, and States are required to assist victims of violence and provide health care to persons with disabilities. Despite their obligations to the human rights treaty, both kingdoms continue to abuse disabled prisoners.
The case of Dr. Abduljalil al-Singace – a prominent Bahraini mechanical engineer, blogger, and human rights activist – is a hallmark example of the Bahraini government’s disregard for prisoners with disabilities. Dr. al-Singace suffers from post-polio syndrome, resulting in paralysis and confining him to a wheel chair. Since his initial arrest in 2011, he has been handed a life sentence. Bahraini authorities have subjected him to torture, even weaponizing his disability against him to enhance his suffering – forcing him to stand on one leg and sign a forced confession. Since his imprisonment, his health has sharply deteriorated. In 2016, a myriad of health issues arose, yet prison authorities denied him treatment, including for low white blood cell count and low potassium. Prison authorities additionally have refused him rubber stoppers for his crutches, resulting in falls on the prison floors. Despite Dr. al-Singace’s urgent need for treatment, he is refused medical attention lest he be strip-searched, chained, shackled, and marched to medical facilities. In the case of Mahdi Kuwaid, a young man with a developmental disability, Bahraini authorities beat him upon arrest despite being informed of his disability.
Unfortunately, Bahrain’s disregard for prisoners in dire need of medical treatment has put others at risk of developing a disability. Award-winning photojournalist Ahmed Humaidan, sentenced to 10 years in prison in March 2014, developed a severe eye infection in October 2017. Prison authorities did not provide adequate medical treatment for the infection which, left untreated, holds the potential to leave Humaidan blind, both permanently disabling him and jeopardizing his livelihood in photojournalism. While prison authorities have clearly violated obligations to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Bahrain’s lack of comprehensive legislation protecting the rights of disabled persons from being denied necessary medical support continues to put its disabled prisoners at serious risk. In Saudi Arabia, legislation is similarly lacking in protections for persons with disabilities, specifically where executions are concerned. Trials often do not recognize the circumstances of individuals with mental disabilities.
Saudi Arabia has sentenced persons with physical disabilities to death. Twenty-three year old Munir al-Adam is both partially blind and partially deaf, arrested, tried and sentenced for his participation in protests in 2011. Al-Adam’s trial was rife with due process violations, as he was barred from access to a lawyer, and he was tortured by prison authorities to obtain a confession. His torture resulted in severe hearing damage which was left untreated for four and a half months until he was taken to the hospital. However, he was further denied surgery to repair his hearing and, as a result, is now completely deaf in one ear because of abuse at the hands of Saudi authorities and the prison’s negligence for his disability. Al-Adam’s irreversible condition attracted the concern of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). During its 20th Session, the CRPD reached a decision in al-Adam’s case, holding that Saudi Arabia failed to fulfil its treaty obligations under Articles 4, 13(1), 15, 16, and 25 of the Convention, calling for the kingdom to provide him with effective remedies, including an investigation into his claims of torture. However, despite this decision, al-Adam remains permanently deaf in one ear and is pending execution.
“The continued abuse and discrimination against persons with disabilities in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia is not only deeply concerning, but fails to comply with both kingdoms’ obligations under international human rights law,” says Husain Abdulla, Executive Director of ADHRB. “The CRPD Decision on Munir al-Adam is an important step in holding Saudi Arabia accountable, but the kingdom must now act upon the recommendations of the Committee. From the highest profile cases such as Dr. al-Singace and al-Adam to the lesser known cases like Mahdi Kuwaid, the kingdoms of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia must halt their systematic abuse of disabled persons, as well as their torture and targeting of disabilities. The current treatment of persons with disabilities by prison authorities in both states is reprehensible, and both states must reform to provide full protections and access to medical treatment for all persons with disabilities.”
On the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, ADHRB calls on the Government of Bahrain and the Government of Saudi Arabia to uphold their commitments to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and end institutionalized discrimination and abuse of persons with mental and physical disabilities. We urge the international community to press Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to take concrete measures to expand and provide for the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities, including their rights to unrestricted medical treatment in prison for a disability, and to drop all charges against persons with disabilities and investigate allegations of torture of disabled persons.