“Bahrain: How Covid-19 could improves prisoners’ prospects”

Press release

Amid the outbreak of COVID-19 in Jau prison in Bahrain, we welcome the positive step taken by the government of Bahrain releasing a number of prisoners under the Alternative Penalty Law and continue to demand the release of more prisoners, especially the elderly and those with chronic diseases that place them at increased risk of severe illness from the virus, as well as prisoners of conscience who should not have been imprisoned in the first place.

On 4 April 2021, The General Directorate of Reform and Rehabilitation resumed family visits to prisoners who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 by only vaccinated family members, where the MOI had suspended family visits as part of preventive measures against the spread of Coronavirus. On 8 April 2021, the Public Prosecution Office announced the release of 73 prisoners under the Alternative Penalty law, totaling 3297 since its application. These releases were followed by a Royal Decree pardoning and releasing 91 other prisoners, marking the month of Ramadan.

From the group of prominent civil society activists and opposition figures, the authorities released Mohammed Hassan Jawad, also known as Parweez Jawad, the eldest political prisoner in Bahrain aged 75 years old, while the others remain behind bars. These include prominent human rights defender Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who has been arbitrarily detained for over ten years, human rights defender Naji Fateel, and opposition leaders Dr. Abdel-Jalil al-Singace, Sheikh Ali Salman, Hassan Mushaima, Abdulwahab Hussain, among others, many of whom have health problems where COVID-19 could pose a threat to their lives.

On 23 March 2021, the Ministry of Interior (MOI)announced that three people had been infected with the Coronavirus in Jau prison. This number has increased substantially, as there are today about 90 Coronavirus cases. The news of the outbreak of the virus in prison raised the concern of the political prisoners’ families and sparked peaceful rallies in many areas in Bahrain to urge the authorities to release them. In response, the MOI announced the replacement of the catering company in Jau prison “on suspicion of the inaccuracy of its precautionary measures against the Coronavirus.” It also announced preparing a list of inmates who meet the criteria for non-custodial sentences.

The failure to provide adequate medical care, coupled with overcrowding and poor hygiene in Bahrain prisons, makes the spread of COVID-19 more dangerous for prisoners. In November 2015, a government watchdog concluded after a visit to Jau prison that “figures show that the prison was overcrowded at 15% over its capacity.” It also reported bad hygiene in some of the prison’s buildings. The unhygienic conditions have led to a scabies outbreak in Jau prison more than once; the latest was in December 2019 and January 2020 in Dry Dock Detention Center. There have also been numerous cases of medical negligence and denial of medical care, in which Abbas Malalla was the last victim.

Abbas died in Jau prison on 6 April 2021 due to years of medical negligence, where the UN Human Rights called for “re-assessment of the health conditions in prisons to prevent the recurrence of such incidents.”

Moreover, the Jau prison administration has not taken adequate preventive
measures to combat the pandemic. It has failed to provide face masks and personal hygiene materials for inmates, where they have to purchase these items from the prison canteen, and some were denied visiting the canteen. Most importantly, it has not addressed the overcrowding in prisons, and it has not been transparent about the scale of the outbreak in detention centers and even deprived many inmates of communicating with their families.

We, the undersigned view the latest releases positively, and we encourage the government of Bahrain to continue releasing all political prisoners, prisoners of conscience, opposition figures, activists, human rights defenders, and all those arrested for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly and those at risk of severe illness from the virus.

It also should improve the provision of medical care to prisoners and
strengthen its preventive measures at detention centers and prisons without violating the rights of prisoners of family visits and communicating with their loved ones. In addition, the government should be transparent about the exact number of cases and the specific measures taken to address the COVID-19 outbreak in prisons.

Read more