Medical Negligence in Bahraini Prisons

Since the 2011 protests and intensified crackdown on civil society, Bahraini authorities continue to use elements of torture, abuse, threats, and unjust treatment against political prisoners as reprisals for their activism. Pressing concerns in the kingdom’s prisons, ran by the corrupt Ministry of Interior, range from poor living conditions to medical neglect and blatant disregard for the health of detainees. According to a 2018 United States (US) State Department report, Bahraini prisoners have difficulty maintaining and addressing their health because guards often behave negligently to their needs, medical clinics are severely understaffed, routine medications are not administered properly, access to outside medical facilities are difficult to schedule, and drinkable water is scarce. Political dissidents and human rights activists, specifically, are denied access to adequate medical care and living conditions at the hands of prison authorities as punishment for their work.

Isa Town Women’s Prison

Isa Town Women’s Prison serves as the only women’s detention facility in Bahrain. In the past, Isa Town Prison was deemed inadequate on accounts of hygiene, recreation, outdoor exercise, and state of repair. With almost 5% of Bahrain’s inmate population being women, overcrowding and cleanliness are issues within the prison. Several women human rights defenders and detainees such as Hajer Mansoor Hasan and Fawzeya Mashaalla, have suffered severe unattended health disparities while in Isa Town Prison.

Mansoor Hasan, the mother-in-law of London-based Bahraini activist Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, was arbitrarily detained in 2017 as a reprisal for Alwadaei’s advocacy, and she currently sits in prison with adverse health conditions. After discovering a lump in her breast in August 2018, Mansoor Hasan underwent tests out of fear that it might be cancerous. Prison authorities failed to inform her of the results and disregarded her pleads to see a specialist. Over six months later, Mansoor Hasan was finally made aware that her lump was not cancerous and was denied further examination. On 16 September 2018, Mansoor Hasan was badly beaten by officers and was taken into isolation following the incident instead of receiving proper medical treatment. Later that night, after her blood sugar dropped to dangerous levels, she was taken to a hospital to receive X-rays while still restrained in handcuffs. In August 2018, the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) issued an Opinion concerning the detention of Mansoor Hasan and two other members of Alwadaei’s family, his brother-in-law Sayed Nizar Alwadaei and cousin Mahmood Marzooq Mansoor. The WGAD found that the deprivation of liberty and cruel treatment of Alwadaei’s family is injudicious and in retaliation for his criticisms of the Bahraini government, as well as breaches articles 2, 3, 5, 9, 10 and 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and articles 2, 7, 9, 10, 14 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Bahraini prison system’s ill-treatment towards Mansoor Hasan and continued withholding of medical treatment as a tool of punishment violates international norms and standards.

Fawzeya Mashaalla Haji is a 57-year-old female prisoner who was detained in Isa Town Women’s Prison from December 2017 to December 2018. Mashaalla Haji suffers from severe medical conditions, including low blood pressure, asthma, heart problems, digestive problems, and mental health issues. Despite alerting prison authorities about her health conditions, she was denied medical and family visits and her complaints were not addressed. On one occasion in March 2018, Mashaalla Haji was transferred to a hospital due to a sudden decrease in her blood pressure, but was denied treatment. On a separate occasion that same month, Mashaalla Haji’s blood sugar levels dropped drastically, requiring hospitalization. The poor conditions of her bus ride to the hospital, provided by the prison, caused her to sustain injuries from a broken seat, resulting in bleeding and loss of consciousness. During her time in Isa Town Prison, Mashaalla Haji also endured threats from Bahraini officials for requesting dental treatment and was forced to sign a statement affirming that she did not seek further services other than medication. Mansoor Hasan’s and Mashaalla Haji’s situations embody the very essence of medical neglect and outright contempt for political prisoners in Bahraini detention centers.

Jau Prison

Jau Prison, also managed by Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior, is the largest detention facility in the kingdom. Over 3,000 prisoners are held in Jau as of 2017, and only two or three medical staff are present to provide care for the entirety of the overcrowded prison. Housing a myriad of political prisoners, this detention facility is notorious for the ill-treatment and abuse of detained activists and rights defenders. Over the years, Jau performed inadequately on the basis of medical care, cell space, overcrowding, and hygiene, and continues to be on the radar among human rights groups. Political prisoners such as Nabeel Rajab, Hassan Mushaima, Dr. Abduljalil al-Singace, Ahmed Humaidan, and Ahmed Merza Ismaeel – just to name a few – have all been deprived of their fundamental right to medical access in Jau Prison.

Nabeel Rajab, a prominent Bahraini human rights defender, has been in Jau since June of 2016 on free expression related charges. Rajab has suffered from numerous health conditions during his detention and has been denied proper medical care on various occasions. Much of his medical issues, such as an irregular heartbeat, are a result from the solitary confinement that he has been subject to for parts of his sentence. Just one day after his gallbladder surgery in October 2016, prison officials placed Rajab in solitary confinement under filthy conditions before taking him back to court. On 4 April 2018, Rajab lost consciousness due to water deprivation and was taken to the military hospital in shackles. He has been continuously denied adequate medical care for his poor health stemming from Jau Prison conditions.

Hassan Mushaima, a political prisoner in his 70s, has been imprisoned in Bahrain since 2011. On numerous occasions, Mushaima’s access to medical care for a multitude of conditions has been obstructed. Prior to his arrest, Mushaima was being treated for stage four cancer and has been denied regular screenings to determine if the cancer has returned. Under Jau supervision, he has been prohibited from seeing a specialist or physician and has not been receiving the regular medication needed to address his life-threatening conditions of high blood pressure, gout, and diabetes. His situation requires extensive medical care, humane living conditions, and timely treatment – all denied by Jau authorities.

Dr. Abduljalil al-Singace is a Bahraini human rights activist serving a life-sentence in Jau Prison. Al-Singace suffers the effects of childhood polio and is confined to a wheelchair or crutches. He has also suffered from vertigo, difficulty breathing, and an ear infection. He has repeatedly slipped and fallen on the prison floor after his requests for rubber stoppers for his crutches were denied. This has continued for more than a year. Although al-Singace’s blood tests indicated that he has a low potassium and white blood cell count, he has been denied the necessary medical treatment by prison officials. Additionally, his declining medical shape has been exasperated by the poor living conditions in Jau and the use of torture against him at the hands of authorities.

Ahmed Humaidan is a Bahraini photojournalist who is serving a 10-year prison sentence for documenting police attacks. During his detention in Jau Prison, Humaidan developed a severe eye infection in October 2017 that required immediate medical attention. His five visits to the prison clinic were unsuccessful as his infection did not clear up due to the ineffective and poorly-equipped facility. He received eye drops from a hospital which helped to improve his eye, but the unhygienic living conditions in Jau cause his infection to be reoccurring. The neglect for cleanliness and proper health protocol pose a concern for Humaidan, as his eye infection can jeopardize his career as a photojournalist.

Ahmed Merza Ismaeel is a Bahraini teacher and half-brother of Sheikh Ali Salman, the imprisoned Secretary-General of political opposition group Al-Wefaq. He was arrested in Bahrain on 11 September 2013 and has endured torture, unfair treatment, and deprivation of medical care likely as reprisals for Ali Salman’s work. Ismaeel suffers from sickle-cell anemia that puts him at an increased risk of pain, infection, and stroke. While his condition requires medical supervision and hospital treatment, Ismaeel has been denied by prison officials to receive medical care and is in dire need of gallbladder surgery. Authorities in Jau prison even forced him to sign papers that surrender his right to be transferred to the hospital for his appointment. With a deteriorating health, the abuse and neglect faced by Ismaeel in Jau further exasperates his ill-condition.

In 2017, following the escape of a group of prisoners, Jau Prison established new regulations that allow for authorities to shackle and restrain all prisoners whenever they leave their cells, despite their health conditions, old age, and harmless behavior. Detainees that require medical treatment are chained and constricted for hospital visits and appointments, making access to medical care even more bothersome. Wrongfully imprisoned human rights defenders have protested the inhumane and degrading treatment constituted by these regulations through hunger strikes and refusing to attend appointments to avoid humiliation. UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners requires that “discipline and order shall be maintained with no more restriction than is necessary to ensure safe custody,” making the unnecessary shackling of prisoners in the kingdom’s detention center in violation of basic international principles.

As highlighted in the above cases, the living and medical conditions in Bahraini prisons are devastating and flawed. Countless prisoners and detained political activists suffer from poor health and ill-treatment with little to no adequate care. In addition to the aforementioned high-profile human rights defenders, prisoners such as Mohamed Merza Moosa, Sadeq Abdali AlAsfoor, Husain Ebrahim Ahmed, Osama Nezar AlSagheer, Mohamed Abdulla AlSankis, Mohamed Ebrahim Hasan, Mohamed Hameed Aldaqqaq, Mohamed Ahmed Mohsen, and Ali Habib Saleh are denied the basic right to decent healthcare by Bahraini authorities as an instrument of torture and punishment. These restrictions go against international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both to which Bahrain is a party; the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners; and the UN Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment. Bahrain’s failure to follow its international obligations and provide humane medical treatment to its prisoners is only one example of the ever-deteriorating human rights situation in the kingdom.

Mary Jomia is an Advocacy Intern with ADHRB