Profile in Persecution: Sheikh Abduljalil Radhi Maki (Al-Muqdad)

Updated: Sheikh Abduljalil Al-Muqdad is a prominent 64-year-old Bahraini religious cleric and political opposition leader and activist. He has been serving a life sentence at Jau Prison since 2011 following his warrantless and violent arrest in relation to pro-democracy demonstrations in the country. During his detention, he has been subjected to torture, religion-based insults, enforced disappearance, an unfair trial, reprisal, and medical neglect. On 16 November 2023, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) adopted an opinion concerning four elderly Bahraini opposition leaders, including Sheikh Al-Muqdad, concluding that their detention was arbitrary and calling for their immediate and unconditional release, as well as a thorough and independent investigation into the violations of their rights.

On 27 March 2011, security officers who did not identify themselves raided Sheikh Al-Muqdad’s house at 3:00 A.M., raising their weapons at him. They took him from his room, threatened him, and tied his hands behind his back in the hall of the house while they searched it. The officers did not present arrest or search warrants. Next, they took him outside barefoot despite the pain in his left foot due to an injury. Sheikh Al-Muqdad was placed in the car, blindfolded, and taken to an unknown location.

When he was taken out of the car, he was slapped, and then officers interrogated him late into the night. In the morning, they brought him to Al-Qurain Prison. He was not permitted to contact a lawyer and was only allowed to call his family for new clothes.

At the prison and during interrogation, officers brutally tortured Sheikh Al-Muqdad. They beat him, insulted him, put him on the ground, and whipped him with a leather belt or a sole after pouring water on him. One of the officers forced him to open his mouth, spat in it, and forced him to swallow. These violations continued at the Military Prosecution, where officers blindfolded him and punched him in the head. Sheikh Al-Muqdad informed the investigator at the Military Prosecution that he was subjected to torture outside the room and asked him to write that in his file and present it to the doctor; however, the investigator did not do so. He was then transferred to the National Security Agency, where officers also verbally abused him, blindfolded and sexually assaulted him, and insulted him, his family, and his religious sect.

On 22 June 2011, the National Safety Court sentenced Sheikh Al-Muqdad to life imprisonment for attempting to overthrow the regime. Both the military and civilian Courts of Appeal upheld the sentence on 28 September 2011 and 4 September 2012, respectively.

During imprisonment, officers continued their abuse, mainly through intentional medical negligence. Sheikh Al-Muqdad, still suffering from pain in his leg, has also been forced to endure back pain and has not received serious treatment or obtained an accurate diagnosis despite constant demands. Furthermore, he has suffered from severe and persistent headaches, which also have gone untreated.

In June 2022, after being denied headache treatment for four years, the Jau Prison administration took Sheikh Al-Muqdad to two appointments; however, he was denied seeing the doctor after arriving at the hospital under the pretexts of “the code has changed” and “you don’t have an appointment.”

In September 2022, Sheikh Al-Muqdad was transferred to an ophthalmologist appointment at an external medical facility to treat cataracts in his eyes. He was transferred into a small vehicle that was not equipped with air conditioning despite the extremely high temperature at the time. Consequently, he suffered from a headache, had difficulty breathing, and was on the verge of losing consciousness.

On 27 September 2022, Sheikh Al-Muqdad was due to be transferred again from Jau Prison for an external medical appointment to treat his headache, dizziness, and poor eyesight. However, just before the appointment, an officer informed him that a doctor would not be present. Consequently, Sheikh Al-Muqdad refused to go to the appointment. Officers told him that he had to sign a statement declaring that he was rejecting medical treatment, which Sheikh Al-Muqdad refused to do. His refusal was met with an aggressive response from some officers, who verbally assaulted him; approximately 4 to 5 officers attempted to beat him but were stopped by other officers. A phone call for Sheikh Al-Muqdad detailing the incident was published the following day on social media platforms. At the beginning of the call, an officer tried to interrupt it and stop Sheikh Al-Muqdad’s testimony. In this recording, Sheikh Al-Muqdad said to the officer who tried to interrupt his call “You are prohibiting me from talking about my medical situation! I’m talking about something else I’m talking about my medical treatment”. At the end of the same recording, it could be heard when Sheikh Al-Muqdad said “Notice, my brother here is prohibiting me from talking!” before the officer ended the call. 

When this incident was publicized, with supporters inside and outside the prison expressing solidarity with Sheikh Al-Muqdad, authorities sought revenge against him instead of launching impartial investigations to hold the officers accountable. Sheikh Al-Muqdad was taken to the Public Prosecution Office (PPO) to be questioned. A wooden board he usually sleeps on to alleviate pain was also taken away as a form of reprisal. Additionally, the prison administration took retaliatory measures against political prisoners who protested in solidarity with Sheikh Al-Muqdad, depriving them of contact and family visits and reducing the time allowed outside their cells from 90 minutes to 45 minutes a day.

On 29 September 2022, the PPO requested an investigation based on a complaint from the Syrian officer involved in the incident, Ali Farhan and summoned Sheikh Al-Muqdad for questioning as the assailant rather than the victim. The PPO and Ombudsman subsequently fabricated a case against Sheikh Al-Muqdad, accusing him of assaulting and provoking the office. 

Sheikh Al-Muqdad’s denial of medical treatment has worsened after this incident. On 9 November 2022, he underwent an eye examination, and despite having paid for the glasses from his personal account, they were not provided to him. Three weeks prior to that, he had a medical appointment outside the prison, but he was taken there in handcuffs and leg shackles despite the swelling in his feet. They placed him in the car, but when they approached the gate, they abruptly told him to get out and returned him to his cell.

On 5 April 2023, Sheikh Al-Muqdad was denied his scheduled hospital appointment, prompting him to stage a sit-in in the prison yard, where he raised a banner demanding medical treatment.

Between 16 and 20 August 2023, prominent Bahraini detained opposition figures and leaders, including Sheikh Al-Muqdad, conducted a hunger strike in solidarity with political prisoners who were also on hunger strike.

On 16 November 2023, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) adopted an opinion on four elderly Bahraini opposition leaders, including Sheikh Al-Muqdad, determining their detention to be arbitrary. The Working Group urged the Bahraini government to immediately and unconditionally release all four opposition figures, conduct a comprehensive and independent investigation into the violations of their rights, and hold the perpetrators accountable.

The medical neglect policy practiced against Sheikh Al-Muqdad is still ongoing, despite his deteriorating health condition.

The warrantless arrest, torture, enforced disappearance, religious-based insults, unfair trial, reprisal, and medical negligence against opposition leader and religious cleric Sheikh Abduljalil Al-Muqdad constitute clear violations of the Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), to which Bahrain is a party. Moreover, the violations he faced during his imprisonment, particularly medical negligence, constitute a breach of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, known as the Nelson Mandela Rules.

Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) calls on the Bahraini authorities to respond to the request of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention opinion, by immediately and unconditionally releasing Sheikh Al-Muqdad, who was arbitrarily detained due to his peaceful activism, and all other political prisoners. ADHRB also urges the Bahraini government to investigate allegations of arbitrary arrest, torture, enforced disappearance, religious-based insults, reprisal,  and medical negligence and hold perpetrators accountable. ADHRB further calls on the Bahraini government to compensate Sheikh Al-Muqdad for the violations he suffered, including serious medical negligence. ADHRB warns of Sheikh Al-Muqdad’s seriously deteriorating health condition resulting from years of medical neglect and urges the Jau Prison administration to urgently provide him with appropriate and necessary medical care, holding it responsible for any further deterioration in his health, given that he is over 64 years old. Finally, ADHRB calls on the international community to advocate further for Sheikh Al-Muqdad’s immediate and unconditional release and to call for the urgent provision of appropriate and necessary medical care for him and other elderly opposition leaders.