Geneva – The Bahraini authorities should take immediate measures to prevent the spread of tuberculosis in Jaw Prison and provide necessary medical care for those infected with the disease, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said today in a statement.
Euro-Med Monitor obtained information indicating at least two prisoners of conscience were infected with tuberculosis in Jaw Prison—Hassan Abdullah Habib Ali Ahmed and Mortada Muhammad Abd al-Ridha JaafarMuhammad—creating fears of further spread of infection in light of apparent medical negligence and lack of clear information from officials regarding detainees’ health status.
This medical negligence coincides with the Jaw Prison administration taking arbitrary measures against some prisoners of conscience, including reducing their time-out-of-cell hours, confiscating their clothes and their toiletries, and cutting off communication with their families.
Detainee Hassan Abdullah Habib Ali Ahmed, 27, has had symptoms of tuberculosis since last March, and after informing the prison administration of his health condition, was transferred to hospital on 30 May 2022. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis and then returned to prison on the same day. Now he is repeatedly moved between the prison and hospital, and has close contact with other detainees, both in prison and in transit to the hospital. No special precautions are taken to prevent transmission of infection.
Relatives of his told Euro-Med Monitor: "Hassan is going through difficult health challenges. He suffers from sickle-cell anemia, and, after his arrest, suffered a herniated disc. In May, the doctor who monitors his condition told us that he had pulmonary tuberculosis and fluid accumulation in the lung, in addition to gastroesophageal reflux.
"We fear the tuberculosis will become active again, which may lead to Hassan's paralysis and other serious complications. The prison administration's response to us is not satisfactory, and it refuses to even provide us with any [updated] reports on Hassan's health".
Euro-Med Monitor verified that another Jaw Prison detainee, Murtada Muhammad Abdul-Ridha Jaafar Muhammad, also has tuberculosis. He was also diagnosed with the disease last May, and it has not been possible for family members to review more recent medical reports on his health status.
The first tuberculosis case that appeared in the prison was former prisoner Ahmed Jaber. Euro-Med Monitor spoke to his family and verified a video clip in which he appeared after his release. It turned out that he had been suffering from symptoms of the disease in April 2021, but was not transferred to the hospital until December 2021. During January and February 2022, the prison administration canceled all his medical appointments at Salmaniya Hospital, but was forced to transfer him to the hospital following protest from Jaber’s colleagues. After 70 days, tests showed the spread of tuberculosis and its effect on his neck, chest, and pelvis vertebrae. Prior to his release from prison, the Jaw administration did not take any special measures during the 70-day period to isolate him from the rest of the detainees.
On 2 June 2022, the Bahraini Ministry of Health admitted that one inmate had been diagnosed with a case of tuberculosis, describing his condition as "stable…[he] is being treated and provided with the necessary medical care". The Ministry said that it is “conducting the necessary precautionary checks on the inmates in contact with the case, to [monitor] the health situation in general".
Bahraini activist Ebtisam Al-Sayegh told Euro-Med Monitor: "We do not know the exact number of cases that were affected by medical negligence, because victims and their families and anyone who reports on their condition risks harm. There is conflicting information about the number of people infected with tuberculosis. Patients with scabies and other seasonal diseases do not receive appropriate medication or any other medical care. Today's concern for the health and lives of all detainees is serious and urgent. We do not want these detainees to come out of prisons dead, or almost dead".
Human rights work in Bahrain involves great risks, she said. "My team and I face endless harassment because of our work”, Al-Sayegh told us. “We feel endangered and potentially targeted".
The Bahraini authorities' practices constitute a clear violation of Article 34 of the Bahrain Correction and Rehabilitation Institution Law, which states: “If it is proven by the centre’s doctor’s report that the inmate or pre-trial detention has a contagious disease, the centre management must isolate him or transfer him to another place until he is cured, and the medical authorities and the competent authorities must also be notified of this before his release."
At the very least, Bahraini authorities are obligated to postpone the execution of a sentence for detainees infected with tuberculosis, as Article 344 of the Code of Criminal Procedure stipulates that, "If the person sentenced to a penalty depriving him of liberty is suffering a disease that is a threat in itself or is a threat to his life by reason of execution, execution of the penalty may be postponed".
The Bahraini authorities must urgently provide the necessary medical care to detainees infected with tuberculosis and other diseases; transparently disclose all data related to the number of ill detainees and their health conditions; and enable those suspected of contracting any disease to receive appropriate treatment through their release.