The escalating trend of medical negligence in Bahraini prisons has been observed recently, with a notable absence of effective external pressure to promote human rights in Bahrain from the allies of the ruling authorities, including both the American and European sides, who have historically been supportive of oppressive governments. Last year, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that human rights issues in Bahrain were discussed during the visit of the Crown Prince of Bahrain to the United States for the first time since the beginning of the Biden administration on 28 February 2022. However, American officials have failed to raise concerns about the dire human rights situation in prisons and the continued detention of political prisoners, including those suffering from chronic illnesses and opposition leaders.
At the end of last month, on April 26, the United Kingdom hosted Bahrain’s Interior Minister Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa, who is considered the main perpetrator of the violations suffered by political prisoners. Despite the condemnation from human rights advocates regarding this visit, no statement was issued by the British Foreign Office criticizing the policy of the Bahraini Interior Minister. Furthermore, there has been no discussion of the demands put forth by human rights organizations and the international community to put an end to these violations and the deliberate medical negligence in Bahraini prisons. The result of this is that the authorities in Bahrain are allowed to persist in their deliberate violation of human rights.
Absence of effective international pressure in foreign policy
- United States
In his election campaign, President Joe Biden promised to prioritize human rights in foreign policy, but he has continued to provide military and security support to repressive governments in the Middle East, including the Bahraini government. His recent visit to the Middle East, which began in July 2022, has further strengthened the practice of international relations based on prioritizing political and economic interests when dealing with repressive governments, while turning a blind eye to human rights violations at the expense of human rights defenders and political prisoners.
Hopes were high that President Biden would issue a statement reaffirming his support for human rights on this trip and calling for the release of all political prisoners in the region. However, all those hopes quickly faded when human rights were not addressed during his trip, neither publicly nor behind closed doors. It is worth noting that his visit to the Middle East was preceded by numerous statements from international human rights organizations, including ADHRB, urging President Joe Biden to hold a meeting with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain to end human rights violations in Bahrain, including the release of political prisoners.
While the US State Department’s report on human rights violations in 2022 touched upon the conditions of politically imprisoned individuals who are in need of proper medical treatment, including Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and some prisoners suffering from tuberculosis, we have not witnessed any effective steps to pressure Bahrain to end its policy of medical negligence. It is noteworthy that the report was based on well-documented information consistently provided by non-governmental human rights organizations. Furthermore, military support to the Bahraini government continues unabated, prioritizing political considerations over human rights issues.
- United Kingdom
The British government continues to prioritize arms sales to Bahrain at the expense of human rights. The UK has designated Bahrain as a key client for arms exports, having sold weapons worth £105 million to Bahrain since the start of the democratic movement in 2011. In the past three years alone, it has sold at least £82 million worth of arms. Additionally, the British Foreign Office has not issued any statement criticizing the policies of Bahrain’s Minister of Interior, Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa, during his recent visit to the United Kingdom. There has been no discussion or consideration of the demands made by human rights organizations and international entities to put an end to these violations and the deliberate policy of medical neglect in Bahraini prisons. The demands of members of the British Parliament, who have consistently raised concerns about human rights violations, have also been ignored. Their latest expression of concern was regarding Bahrain’s sponsorship of the Royal Windsor Horse Show 2023. Some members of Parliament submitted a petition calling on the Royal Windsor Horse Show to adhere to its human rights policy adopted in 2021 and prevent the use of this sporting event to whitewash the reputation of the Bahraini government. The petition also highlighted the systematic medical neglect faced by political opposition leaders such as Hassan Mushaima, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, Abdulwahab Hussain, and Sheikh Abduljalil Al-Miqdad, along with the failure of Bahrain’s ruler to resolve the situation of detained academic Abduljalil Al-Singace.
Prisoners are victims of medical neglect policy
Many political prisoners in Jau Prison complain about the policy of slow death, as they continue to be deprived of proper healthcare and subjected to retaliation and mistreatment. Their condition necessitates their immediate release so that they can receive appropriate medical care. We would like to mention the cases of several prisoners whose issues have been documented by the organization ADHRB:
- Abdulwahab Husain Ismaeel
In December 2022, the Jau Prison administration imposed restrictions on the prominent 68-year-old political prisoner Abdulwahab Husain Ismaeel, who is serving a life sentence. Despite his advanced age and the need to rely on a cane for walking, he was prevented from going to the hospital without being handcuffed. His family was unaware of the reason behind this sudden decision, considering that his previous movements were unrestricted. All his medical appointments at external hospitals were canceled, leading to a serious deterioration in his health. He continues to suffer from medical neglect until this day in April 2023, and his health condition has worsened. Due to his irregular blood sugar levels, the prison administration is required to transfer him for regular check-ups with a specialist, and he currently needs insulin injections. He has been denied treatment for a nerve problem that he was suffering from before entering prison, which he previously receive regularly at the military hospital. His appointments with a kidney specialist, scheduled almost 10 months ago, were also canceled, despite the impact on his kidneys due to his irregular blood sugar levels. Additionally, his dental treatment has been discontinued for months, and he was not transferred for three recent appointments, significantly worsening his condition. However, government hospitals claim to be committed to providing comprehensive healthcare for everyone and stated in their statement that the health condition of the prominent political prisoner Abdulwahab Husain Ismaeel is stable. They asserted that he has been medically examined after undergoing the necessary tests, but this seems to be an attempt to conceal the policy of medical neglect and shows a lack of transparency.
- Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja
Prominent human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja continues to be denied access to a cardiologist, as well as his other appointments with specialized doctors, putting him at risk of a heart attack or stroke at any moment. Recently, Al-Khawaja was prevented from attending two medical appointments, the latest being on Thursday 11 May 2023.
Since 9 May 2023, Al-Khawaja has been staging a daily sit-in in the courtyard of Jau Prison, holding up placards in front of closed cameras that read, “Deprivation of treatment is slow organized murder” and “You practice torture and deny treatment,” protesting against the denial of necessary medical appointments for him and his fellow prisoners of conscience. On 14 May 2023, he informed his family that he temporarily suspended his protest due to promises made by the prison administration to improve conditions and allow access to proper treatment. However, human rights appeals continue demanding his immediate medical treatment, refuting the claims of the Bahraini government.
Six United Nations experts expressed their grave concern in a joint allegation letter addressed to the Bahraini government, published on May 4, 2023, including the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, and the Deputy Chair of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Mumba Malila, regarding the ongoing arbitrary detention of human rights defender Mr. Al-Khawaja and the allegations of torture, ill-treatment, and deteriorating prison conditions he faces. On December 15, 2022, the European Parliament adopted a draft resolution calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Bahraini-Danish human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and all other political prisoners.
- Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace
On 6 May 2023, it was reported that Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace experienced episodes of dizziness and loss of balance, leading to falls. He continues his hunger strike, which has been ongoing for a year and six months, protesting against mistreatment in prison, confiscation of his intellectual property, and inadequate healthcare.
Dr. Abduljalil has been subjected to medical neglect, a deliberate policy employed by the Bahraini authorities as a form of retaliation. The authorities have prevented him from receiving treatment for his various chronic conditions, including low blood pressure, blood sugar levels, low white blood cell count, pain, and inflammation of the joints.
Despite concerns raised by three Special Rapporteur offices: the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, the Special Rapporteur on health, and the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Bahrain has ignored their calls for his immediate release and has refused to put an end to these inhumane practices.
- Hasan Mushaima
The opposition leader Hasan Mushaima, who is serving a life sentence, continues to suffer from medical neglect, while the ongoing demands for his immediate and unconditional release are ignored. Due to his advanced age and deteriorating health condition, he is constantly at risk of imminent death. He experiences constant delays in receiving medication for his severe and persistent pain, and his family’s sent medicine is rejected. His family is currently concerned about the results of his blood tests, which show an elevated salt level, posing a threat to his kidney health.
Mr. Mushaima suffers from various health crises and chronic illnesses. For almost two years, he has been complaining about the policy of medical neglect and slow death. In addition to his struggles with high blood pressure and diabetes, he experiences abnormal swelling in both feet, accompanied by black spots, significant swelling in his leg, severe knee pain, limping, and difficulty in movement.
He also suffers from unspecified damage to his kidneys and stomach, swelling in his eye, a heart muscle problem, breathing difficulties, canceling his medical appointments without informing him, and taking him to the hospital without receiving the necessary treatment.
- Sheikh Mirza Mahroos
On 31 January 2023, Sheikh Mirza Mahroos suffered a heart attack and was transferred to Awali Heart Hospital, where he underwent a catheterization procedure. His condition was a result of medical neglect after he had reported chest pain to the prison administration. The health of Sheikh Mirza Mahroos also requires continuous monitoring by colon and heart specialists. He had undergone a surgical procedure for his colon condition, but it was unsuccessful due to authorities’ refusal to take him to the doctor for follow-up and denial of necessary medications. Sheikh Mirza Mahroos has repeatedly engaged in hunger strikes to protest against being deprived of the necessary healthcare.
- Mohamed Hasan Abdulla (Al-Raml)
On 30 May 2023, the sixty-year-old political prisoner Mohamed Hasan Abdulla, who is serving a life sentence, started a new hunger strike for the fifth time in response to prison officers denying him medical appointments and proper meals. On 14 May 2023, Mohamed initiated a hunger strike despite being aware of the danger it poses to his life. He took this step due to the prison administration’s failure to provide him with the medications prescribed by the doctor at the military hospital. On 22 April 2023, he was transported from his cell to the military hospital in an ambulance without informing his family, and there was no news from him for a week. Despite his family’s efforts to inquire about him in hospitals, they received no answers except for a call from one of his fellow inmates who informed them of these details. He remained in the military hospital for a week and was then returned to Jaw Prison. After that, he contacted his family and informed them that he had lost consciousness for four full days and that his health condition was extremely critical. Medications were prescribed to him, and he was promised that he would undergo hernia and spinal surgeries soon.
Abdulla had gone on hunger strikes multiple times, such as on 1 March 2023, but he ended his strike on March 6 after being promised by an officer that he would be taken to the medical appointment. However, as always, he was not taken to any appointment, which led him to start another hunger strike on 30 March 2023, protesting against medical neglect. He was transferred to the prison clinic due to a severe drop in his blood sugar level, but he refused to end his hunger strike. Then, on April 5, he was transferred to the Salmaniya Hospital clinic after six days. Despite this development, the doctor at Salmaniya did not schedule a specific surgery date.
Mohamed needs urgent hernia surgery and should be examined by internal medicine, ophthalmology, and orthopedic specialists due to his extremely deteriorated health condition. Since 2022, he has not been receiving the necessary medication and has not been transferred to doctors.
- Abduljabbar Isa Mohamed
The political prisoner Abduljabbar Isa Mohamed, who is serving a ten-year prison sentence, is still prohibited from visits since last month and has been placed in solitary confinement for over two weeks due to his demand for medical treatment.
Abduljabbar suffers from chronic health conditions, including kidney and gallstone, colon disorders, and stomach problems due to a previous operation. He requires special nutrition and regular monitoring, but he is deprived of all of that.
Abduljabbar Isa is one of 21 defendants who were tried in a case known as “Saraya Al-Ashtar”. The trial lacked fair trial procedures. In January 2023, Abduljabbar reported being subjected to violations and torture in the investigation building, such as beatings, sexual harassment, electric shocks, and threats of arresting and killing his siblings as a means of pressuring him to confess to the charges against him. He also experienced medical neglect and was denied access to treatment.
- Habib Ali AlFardan
The political prisoner Habib AlFardan, who is sentenced to 75 years in prison, is suffering from deteriorating health due to the lack of proper medical treatment. He experiences memory loss, difficulty concentrating, and frequent headaches, which are the same symptoms he suffered when he had a brain tumor. He has often been denied medical appointments and has gone on hunger strikes multiple times for the same reason. Months before his arrest, Habib underwent surgery to remove a large tumor from his brain in January 2015 in Germany. He had been experiencing headaches, difficulty concentrating, and memory weakness. The doctors advised him after the surgery to avoid any physical or psychological stress and to undergo MRI scans every 3 months. However, upon his return from Germany, before his condition fully improved or his memory regained properly, he was arrested and interrogated under harsh conditions.
Since the beginning of 2023, the pace of protests among political prisoners has escalated in response to the policy of medical negligence and human rights violations they have faced. Political prisoners have often resorted to this sole weapon available to them after losing hope in the relevant institutions they appealed to, and after their repeated demands over the years. As a result, many prisoners have gone on hunger strikes to demand access to necessary medical treatment, putting their lives at increased risk due to their chronic illnesses and deteriorating conditions resulting from neglect. Some notable examples include:
- Political prisoner Muqdad Al-Jazairi, who started a hunger strike on 9 March 2023, following the disregard of the prison administration and concerned human rights organizations for his request to meet the prosecutor and his right to medical treatment. He suffered injuries to his spine as a result of torture in an incident that occurred in Jau Prison on 10 March 2015.
- Sheikh Abdul Hadi Al-Mukhodher and Sheikh Hasan Issa, who declared their hunger strike in protest against mistreatment and violations inside the central Jau Prison due to medical neglect and the cancellation of medical appointments, depriving them of proper treatment.
- On February 23, a number of political prisoners announced their intention to engage in an open-ended hunger strike if the prison administration continued to ignore their legitimate demands after their repeated appeals.
The Role of Families and Relatives
The role of families and relatives of sick prisoners is crucial in supporting their children and raising their voices loudly. They do so through gatherings or marches, demanding the immediate release of all political prisoners, especially those suffering from chronic illnesses and being deprived of medical treatment, while also being subjected to revenge and mistreatment. The activism highlights the leadership of women in these protests, as they raise various slogans on banners in different areas of Bahrain under the slogan #Save_the_Sick_Prisoners, denouncing the policy of medical neglect in prisons, which further increases the concerns of families about the safety and well-being of their children.
It is evident that the ongoing policy of medical negligence in Jaw Prison and the inhumane conditions violate international detention standards and Nelson Mandela Rules for the Protection of Prisoners, alongside the physical and psychological mistreatment and poor healthcare that violate the human rights of prisoners. This intentional policy is pursued by the authorities in the absence of international pressure, particularly from allied countries that constantly seek to strengthen their relationship with Bahrain, prioritizing military interests over taking real and effective measures regarding human rights.
It is clear how the Bahraini government’s negligence in providing medical care has resulted in the deterioration of prisoners’ health and exposed them to further risks when they declared hunger strikes. Additionally, serious diseases such as tuberculosis have spread among political prisoners, causing harm to their health in 2022. This situation has raised concerns from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, who called on the Bahraini government to provide necessary healthcare to Hassan Abdullah Habib, Ali Husain Barakat, and Murtadha Abdulredha Mohamed.
Therefore, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) calls on allied countries, especially the United States, the United Kingdom, and European Union member states, to:
- Demand the unconditional release of political prisoners, particularly the elderly and those afflicted with tuberculosis and other chronic diseases, who are facing health complications that may worsen due to the spread of diseases.
- Urge authorities to provide necessary and appropriate medical care for all prisoners and ensure that prisons meet minimum standards for providing healthcare.
- Verify the transparency of officials from the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Interior, and official human rights institutions regarding information related to the medical conditions inside prisons.
- Request visits, especially by ambassadors of countries, to Bahraini prisons to observe the prison conditions and express solidarity with political prisoners.
- Exert pressure on Bahrain to allow visits by Special Procedures Offices to Bahraini prisons.
- Develop a plan aimed at securing the release of political prisoners in Bahrain.