A new Tuberculosis outbreak in Jau prison has shed light once again on the scope of medical negligence in Bahrain. New casesare still being recorded and more are expected to test positive in the days to come. The systematic medical negligence that Bahraini authorities have used against political prisoners has often been an issue of concern for various stakeholders. The tuberculosis outbreak is just one case highlighting Bahraini authorities’ continuous violation of their responsibilities towards political prisoners.
In June 2022, it was confirmed that a political prisoner at Jauprison, Hasan Abdullah Habib, had tuberculosis, while two additional inmates were exhibiting symptoms but have not yet been confirmed. Given the historical patterns of medical negligence in Bahraini prisons and the systematic nature of abuse aimed at prisoners of conscience, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) are concerned that these early cases could lead to a tuberculosis outbreak. This likelihood, which should be recognized is an entirely avoidable tragedy, would only serve to exacerbate the harsh and inhumane prison conditions that have already contributed to the severe deterioration of the health ofindividuals who have been arbitrarily detained by the Bahraini monarchy.
Hasan Abdullah Habib is currently serving an eight-year sentence after having been beaten and subjected to a warrantless arrest at the age of 17. Throughout his detention and trial process he was tortured and subjected to due process violations. In May 30 of 2022, Hasan was transferred to Salmaniya Medical Complex after an episode of severe pain from sickle cell anaemia. He suffers from several other health conditions, including problems in the colon and spine, and thalassemia. While receiving treatment at the hospital for his chronic medical conditions that have routinely been neglected by prison authorities, doctors informed Hasan that he had tuberculosis.Despite this diagnosis, he was returned to Jau prison two days later without any accommodations for this new severe medical diagnosis and placing him back with eight other prisoners. In a recording released online, Hasan provided details on hisdeteriorating condition and accused Jau prison administration of medical negligence.
Sayed Nizar Al-Wadaei – imprisoned as a reprisal against his exiled relative Sayed Ahmed AlWadaei– and Mortada Mohamed Abdel-Redha, both of whom are political prisoners and are kept in the same cell with Hasan, have also experienced symptoms of tuberculosis. The families of both men have reported that theprison administration has refused to carry out tuberculosis tests. All three individuals shared a cell with a fourth prisoner, Ahmed Jaber, who was released from prison in late February after his health condition deteriorated, which took 11 months of pain and suffering and of illness in prison.
On 2 June 2022, the Bahraini Ministry of Health (MOH) confirmed Hasan’s illness of tuberculosis in an official statementleaving his name anonymous. Although MOH officials have stated that Hasan’s condition is stable and that he is receiving the proper treatment, Hasan’s own recorded testimony directly contradicts this statement from MOH. Authorities from the MOH have also asserted that the necessary precautionary measures are being taken, but they did not provide details on how contact tracing and isolation is being conducted and when tuberculosis tests will be carried out. It is not clear where Hasan Abdullah Habib is being held within Jau prison, nor has it confirmed if he is being held separately from other inmates to prevent a tuberculosis outbreak. What is clear is that Hasan’s recorded testimony is consistent with other reports regarding Bahrain’s treatment of political prisoners. Worse yet, it was reported that Sayed Nizar was held in solitary confinement for three days after he requested proper testing for tuberculosis, and his mother was threatened with arrest when she visited the prison on Wednesday to demand her son get tested.
The inability of Bahraini authorities to adequately respond to these issues reinforces the perception of their disregard for theirresponsibility to safeguard the rights of prisoners. Human Rights Organizations and International media have expressed concern regarding the outbreak and have called upon the government to take immediate and decisive action. Amnesty International has criticized the government’s lack of action and the precautionary measures that it has taken. According to the Statement, the authorities have “stood by” and did not intervene in a timely manner in order to limit the spread of the disease. Family members of prisoners have been extremely worried and uneasy when it comes to this issue. This directly jeopardizes their sons’ lives. As such, they have mobilized a significant campaign on twitter that has called for the immediate release of the prisoners. The campaign has seen a tremendous amount of interaction from various figures and individuals who have openly criticized the Bahraini government for their inaction.
With the absence of decisive measures by Bahraini authorities, medical negligence remains a deeply dangerous phenomenon that risks the lives of political prisoners in Bahrain.
A Pattern of Mistreatment and Negligence
While there is hope that all appropriate measures are being taken to avoid tragedy in this most recent case, there are, unfortunately, numerous other cases regarding medical negligence substantiating fears of an impending disease outbreak in Bahrain’s prisons.
Jau prison, managed by Bahrain’s MOI, is the largest detention facility in the kingdom. Over 1,500 political prisoners are held in Jau, and only two or three medical staff are present to provide care for the entirety of the overcrowded prison. This detention facility is notorious for housing political prisoners and the ill-treatment and abuse of detained activists and rights defenders.
In the eleven years since the violent military suppression of the 2011 pro-democracy movement, the Government of Bahrain has only intensified its suffocation of a free and open civil societyand further restricted fundamental freedoms. As part of the government’s attempt to persecute and silence all voices of dissent, Bahraini authorities continue to use elements of torture, abuse, threats, and unjust treatment against political prisoners as reprisals for their activism. Bahrain’s deeply flawed criminal justice system operates as an extension of the royal family’s personal desires, wherein officials from the Ministry of Interior (MOI) are allowed to engage in physical and political abuses without fear of consequences. Pressing concerns within the kingdom’s prisons range from inhuman and degrading living conditions to medical neglect and blatant disregard for the health of detainees.
In the recently released 2021 Country Report on Bahrain, the State Department report cited conditions in prisons as being, “…harsh and sometimes life threatening, due to overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care”. The report notes severe abuses including the inability for prisoners to maintain and address their health due to the negligence of prison authorities; the chronic understaffing of medical clinics; the inadequate and improper administering of routine medications; and inadequate and obstructed access to outside medical facilities. Alarmingly, it has become increasingly apparent that prison authorities deliberately deny access to adequate medical care and living conditions for political dissidents and human rights defenders as a form of reprisal for their activism.
Jau prison, specifically, has been cited for abuses concerning the inadequacy of medical care, cell space, overcrowding, and hygiene. Prominent human rights defenders and opposition activists such as Hassan Mushaima and Dr. Abduljalil AlSingacehave been deprived of their fundamental right to medical access in Jau Prison. Their stories are not unique; Bahrain’s otherdetained political activists also are forced to suffer from poor health and ill-treatment with little to no adequate care. Testimonies from these prisoners in Jau prison have described the severity of the situation and have called for better conditions and treatment of prisoners. Mahdi Mohsen Al-Asfour, who is serving his life sentence and an additional 25 years, has described medical negligence as a form of “slow death” and another form of torture.
The severity of medical negligence according to Mr. Al-Asfourhas led to the death of more prisoners that death caused by torture. Another prisoner, Mohamad Hasan Jasem AlMadouab, who is serving an 18-year sentence, reaffirms that medical negligence is a policy of slow death and has accused the MOI of being a willing partner of prison authorities in the slowly killing prisoners. This is a politically motivated policy according to another prisoner, Abed Al-Amir Ali Hasan. Abed Al-Amir describes medical negligence as a systematic form of reprisal against political prisoners.
These restrictions violate international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (both of which Bahrain is a signatory); 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.
In those most severe cases, medical negligence has resulted in fatal outcomes. ADHRB has consistently documented how the intentionally dangerous conditions in Bahraini prisons have claimed the lives of several individuals within the past two years. Abbas Malallah, a political prisoner who was arrested for his activism and support for the 2011 pro-democracy movement, died tragically in April 2021 due to medical negligence. Shortly after his arrest, Abbas was severely tortured, to the extent that he was placed in intensive care for more than a week. During his ten years in prison, Abbas suffered from heart problems, stomach ulcers, and colon problems. However, he received no treatment for these chronic conditions. Although MOI reports cited heart attack as the cause of death, ADHRB documentation indicates that the prison administration failed to treat him promptly, delayed transferring him to the hospital after he became unconscious, and ignored other prisoners’ demands for him to be transferred to a doctor, clinic, or hospital. This severe procrastination surrounding his death raises serious concern about the extent of willful negligence exhibited by the prison authorities.
Hassan Abdulnabi Mansoor, formerly an inmate at Dry Dock Detention Center, died on 25 July 2021 following complications from sickle cell anemia and amid reports of medical negligence by authorities. His death was confirmed by the MOI, though official accounts of the death failed to acknowledge the existence of medical negligence or confirm whether an investigation into his death would take place. An investigation conducted by ADHRB, in conjunction with the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), revealed that Hasan Abdulnabi was not given his prescribed medication during the period of his incarceration. ADHRB further documented how prison authorities failed to order his admittance to the prison clinic in a timely manner, despite repeated requests by Hasan Abdulnabi himself, which may have aggravated his deteriorating medical condition.
The inhumane conditions in Bahrain’s Jau Prison clearly violate international detention standards and standards of basic human decency. The prison’s unsanitary environment, combined with physical and psychological ill-treatment, poor health care, and obstructed family visits, infringes upon the human rights of prisoners. ADHRB’s own extensive documentation, in accordance with the findings of the Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health, have unambiguously demonstrated how the Bahraini government’s neglect of medical care has led to serious illness. Due to the lack of transparency concerning where Hassan Abdullah Habib is being held withinJau prison, and what specific measures prison authorities have so far implemented to prevent the spread of an acutely contagious disease, there is real cause for concern over the possibility of a tuberculosis outbreak. Accordingly, ADHRB calls for