UN Experts Express “Grave Concern” At Denial of Medical Care for Bahrain’s Political Prisoners

19 November 2019 – Yesterday, four United Nations (UN) Special Procedures offices published an Allegation Letter to the Government of Bahrain concerning the denial of adequate medical care for detainees in Jau Prison, including individuals with chronic health conditions, persons with disabilities, human rights defenders, and prisoners of conscience. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) served as the source of the information provided to Special Procedures, through our UN Complaint Program. ADHRB welcomes the comments from the Special Procedures offices, and echoes their calls for Bahrain to uphold its international obligations and respect the human rights of all prisoners.

The letter, which was sent 18 September 2019, was signed by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities; Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

The letter details the denial of medical care to 10 Bahraini prisoners, including high-profile political prisoners Hassan Mushaima, former Secretary-General of the Haq Movement for Liberty and Democracy and the co-founder and former Vice President of Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, which was dissolved in 2016, and Dr. AbdulJalil AlSingace, academic, blogger, and former member of the AlWefaq and Haq political parties – both arrested in 2011 for their role in the peaceful protest movement and sentenced to life in prison.

Additionally, the letter highlighted the cases of Elyas AlMulla, who was arrested, tortured, and sentenced to 15 years in prison, where he has continuously been denied appropriate medical treatment for cancer; Husain AbdulAziz Mohamed, who Bahraini authorities subjected to torture and failed to provide with adequate eye surgery for the deterioration of his vision; Sayed Khadhem Ali, a carpenter who is being arbitrarily detained, tortured, and denied adequate healthcare in Bahrain’s Jau Prison; Mohamed Hameed AlDaqqaq, who suffers from sickle-cell anemia, a skin condition, and was born with one kidney, and since his arrest authorities have deprived him of necessary medication; Mohamed Merza Moosa, an athlete who won several gold medals in international competitions for Jiu-jitsu and who participated in demonstrations calling for human rights in February 2011; Habib Ali Mubarak, who was disappeared, tortured, and convicted in an unfair trial and suffers from depression, anxiety, and high blood pressure; Ali Madhi Alaiwi, who suffers from mental health issues including hallucinations and Trichotillomania and is not receiving proper psychological care; and Khalil Ibrahim AlSaffar, who has a skull injury that was aggravated during torture and Bahraini authorities stopped providing medication for, leading to fainting spells. The Special Procedures offices had previously sent communications concerning Hassan Mushaima, Dr. AlSingace, Elyas AlMulla, and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has authored an Opinion in the case of Mohamed AlDaqqaq.

In the letter, the Special Procedures highlighted the individual cases, paying particular attention to the denial of access to medical care, or restrictions of access to medical care for the prisoners. These restrictions include the shackling of prisoners to attend family visits and medical appointments, a practice which many political prisoners refuse to subject themselves to, as they believe it to be degrading and punitive. As a result, these prisoners (including Hassan Mushaima and Dr. AlSignace) are not taken for medical care, and not permitted to attend family visits. This has resulted in some prisoners not being able to see their families for years at a time.

As recently as November 2019, Dr. AlSingace, who suffers the long-term effects of childhood polio, still has not received the appropriate medicine or rubber soles for his crutches, despite having asked for both for more than two years. The prison administration also continues to cancel his family visits for no apparent reason. Hassan Mushaima, who suffered from cancer, requires check-ups and screenings every six months, but which only occur sporadically. On 21 October he was taken for an exceptional medical appointment, without the shackles. He was screened for cancer, but has still not received the results of his examination. As recently as 6 November, prison authorities refused to take him to a medical appointment without the shackles.

In addition to this general practice of shackling for high-profile political prisoners, the prison has also regularly denied medical care for individuals with chronic conditions such as sickle-cell anemia, cancer, and diabetes.

In the letter, the Special Procedures mandate holders stated the following:

“. . . [W]e would like to express our grave concern at the allegations of torture and ill-treatment of the above-mentioned individuals, violations of their physical and mental integrity while in State custody, in particular considering the deterioration of their health status and the restrictions to access adequate medical treatment, and health care in detention. We are furthermore concerned that the measures taken by the authorities appear to be directly related to the activities of the above mentioned individuals, and represent a criminalization of the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly. Additional concern is  expressed that some of these individuals have been already subjects of previous communications of Special Procedures and that they form part of the mounting pressure exerted over civil society actors in Bahrain.”*

The Government of Bahrain has sent no reply to the letter.

“The Special Procedures offices have correctly identified the issue – the Bahraini government is weaponizing medical care to silence dissent and to discourage others from calling for freedom and reform,” says Husain Abdulla, Executive Director of ADHRB. “Despite the inhumane and cruel treatment of individuals who simply called for peace and democracy, Bahrain continues to enjoy a seat on the Human Rights Council and close relationships with the United States and United Kingdom. If the international community does not speak up and hold Bahrain to account, they are complicit in the abuse of political prisoners.”

ADHRB welcomes the comments of the UN experts, and echoes their calls for Bahrain to uphold its international human rights obligations, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners, the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the “Mandela Rules”), and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, among others. We also call for the release of political prisoners, the investigation into allegations of torture and ill treatment with a view to holding the perpetrators accountable, for full and adequate medical care for all prisoners, and for the government to provide just compensation for the violation of the human rights of its prisoners.

*emphasis added