The Impact of COVID-19 on Political Prisoners in the GCC Countries

Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), with the support of Harm Reduction International (HRI), recently undertook a comprehensive study into prison conditions in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries during the COVID-19 pandemic, paying special attention to the prisons of Bahrain, for which information was more readily available. Our findings support a conclusion that GCC authorities not only ignored the presence of COVID in their prisons, but that the detention policies of GCC governments in fact created the conditions under which COVID flourished. In particular, GCC government policies led to severe overcrowding of their prisons, which allowed COVID to spread quickly upon initial contact. Once the pandemic had successfully infiltrated prisons, GCC governments provided very little in the way of relief, undertaking little in the way of early release programs and prioritizing other populations’ access to medicine. These conditions created a human rights disaster, leading to unnecessary illness and loss of life.

Our findings support the need for the international community at large to consider the needs of prison populations when considering how to prepare for another pandemic. As the governments of the world work together with the United Nations to draft an international treaty on pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response, it is vital that they include language relating to the rights of prisoners around the globe.

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