Political Prisoner Recounts Painful Memories of 10 March 2015 in Letter Marking Fifth Anniversary

10 March 2020 – Political prisoner Ali AlHajee wrote a letter marking the mass beatings of prisoners that took place on this day five years ago in Jau Prison, recounting the three month policy of collective punishment endured by prisoners in the form of physical and psychological torture. Though only a minority of prisoners participated in a riot, prison authorities responded with violence deemed excessive and disproportionate.

In May 2015, Human Rights Watch urged Bahraini authorities to order an independent investigation into allegations that security forces used excessive force stating that those involved should be held to account. In June 2015, BIRD, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) and the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights published a report, Inside Jau: Government Brutality in Bahrain’s Central Prison, exposing the Bahraini government’s response to the prison riot at Jau Prison in March 2015.

Although “these memories are painful” for Ali, he writes that it is “necessary to recall them to bring justice to the torture victims.” To quell unrest in Jau prison on March 10 2015, Ali says that prison authorities used methods far beyond what was necessary befitting the circumstances, using tear gas and rubber bullets, as well as expanding bullets that are illegal under the Hague Convention. Ali also remembers how prisoners were beaten and tortured with wooden boards, electrical wires and pipes.

Accused of incitement, Ali and over 100 others were placed in solitary confinement, where they experienced severe forms of physical and psychological torture for 90 days. This included sleep deprivation, forced standing for long hours, being deprived from using toilets, and being made to listen to the screams of prisoners being tortured day and night.

While prison authorities enjoy impunity for their abusive actions, 60 prisoners were sentenced to an additional ten years in prison and issued a fine of half a million dinars.

Ali, who has been in prison since 2013 and is serving a 10 year sentence, says he has lodged multiple complaints to Bahraini oversight bodies, but that they are “still yet to take action”. He further accuses the Bahrain Ministry of Interior and prison administration of using the 2017 escape of several prisoners to justify the use of abusive and torturous methods used against prisoners.

The letter ends with Ali claiming that the “UK government’s partnership with Bahrain makes them complicit in the violation of political prisoner’s rights”.

Read the full letter below.

Today, the 10th of March, marks the 5th anniversary of the mass abuse that occured in Jau Prison. Jau is Bahrain’s largest prison, overflowing with activists and political prisoners stemming from the political crisis that began in February 2011. These memories are painful, but it is necessary to recall them in order to bring justice to the victims of torture.

In most prisons around the world, it is standard practice in the event of a rebellion to take necessary measures to control the situation. In these circumstances, the prison may use these powers until the situation is controlled, after which the prison must return to its normal state. However, for an extended three month period, from the 10 March to 1 July 2015, we suffered greatly in the prison from collective punishment in a flagrant violation of human rights principles.

The prison administration has used foreign forces in the prison, including the Jordanian Gendarmerie Forces, who were present from 2014 to 2017 as part of a training agreement.

The first day of the abuse was extremely terrifying. Excessive force was used against unarmed prisoners resulting in severe injuries. This included the use of tear gas and rubber bullets as well as expanding bullets, which are illegal under international law. In addition, we were beaten and tortured with batons, wooden boards, electrical wires, and pipes. The prison administration also ordered all prisoners to be removed to the prison yards, exposing them to the harsh climatic conditions for a long period of time.

In addition, more than 110 prisoners including myself were isolated in a new building for incitement. The collective punishment inside lasted for about ninety days, in which the most horrific and systematic forms of torture were practiced against us including:

  • Physical torture, inflicted collectively on all of the prisoners, followed by random selction of prisoners for further torture in the form of kicking and beating with batons; and

  • Psychological torture and humiliation including insults, forcing prisoners to imitate animals, head shaving, sleep deprivation, denial of bathing, forced standing for long hours, dousing them with cold water, forcing prisoners to defecate and urinate in their clothes, and listening to the screams of prisoners being tortured day and night.

The ridiculous thing about all of this, is that the Public Prosecution and the Prison Administration launched an investigation where nearly 50 prisoners were tortured into providing confessions, yet to this day, they enjoy impunity. This ended with the criminalisation of 60 prisoners, who were sentenced to an additional 10 years and issued a fine of half a million dinars.

I am one of the political prisoners in Jau who has been in prison since 2013. I witnessed these events in the second year of my 10 year sentence. During my time in prison, I have been subjected to the most horrific types of physical and psychological torture because of my activism to call for an end to the use of torture and the improvement of services and provision of health care in the prison. My activism led to officers and guards taking me from my cell on several occasions and assaulting me by all means and methods. I have filed several complaints with the institutions responsible for investigating torture, who have still yet to take action.

To this day, the Ministry of the Interior and Prison administration continues to use the escape of several prisoners in 2017 to justify the use of these methods. The prison administration has since continued to use collective punishment and physical and psychological torture methods in violation of international covenants and charters.

In light of the events mentioned, I am calling upon the UK Foreign Office to respond to my questions. What is the purpose of continuing the British training program with the Bahraini government, benefitting the Jau Prison Administration, the Ombudsman’s Office, the Special Investigations Unit and the Public Prosecution without changing the behavior of these institutions? Thus, UK government’s partnership with Bahrain makes them complicit in the violation of political prisoner’s rights.

Ali AlHajee, Jau Prison

10 March 2020