Geneva - Bahraini authorities must end all harassment and arbitrary measures against prisoners of conscience in Jaw Prison and ensure their rights are upheld as per relevant local and international obligations, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said in a statement.
Hundreds of Jaw Prison inmates started an open-ended hunger strike on Monday 7 August in protest of being denied their rights, accusing the prison administration of deliberately tormenting and harassing them.
Euro-Med Monitor reviewed a statement and audio recordings from the prisoners, in which they say that the prison administration practises psychological and physical humiliation against inmates and pursues a policy of isolating them and depriving them of their rights, including the right to religious freedom.
Prisoners claim that they are kept in cells for 23 hours a day. As a result, they are allowed only one hour per day to meet many of their most crucial needs, including communication, physical exercise, sun exposure, and the ability to hang laundry to dry, and are not permitted to pray in congregation in the prison’s prayer room. They also cite an extremely limited number of visits with loved ones, insufficient time for these visits, being separated from their families by glass barriers during their time together, and the restriction of visitors to a limited number of relatives, which does not include uncles, nephews, and nieces. Furthermore, they claim that authorities deprive them of education and purposefully ignore patients’ medical conditions.
These measures are unnecessary and unlawful, Euro-Med Monitor emphasised, especially since no reports indicate that any of the prisoners require their freedom to be restricted due to specific behaviours such as attempts to escape or self-harm. Besides, if such behaviours were to occur, the prison administration would still be in no position to deprive prisoners of their fundamental rights and/or collectively punish them. “The administration of Jaw Prison is obligated to provide prisoners with full rights; it is disgraceful that the authorities continue to harass them and exacerbate their suffering,” said Euro-Med Monitor’s Chief Operating Officer Anas Jerjawi.
“What prisoners of conscience face in Bahrain may amount to compound oppression, and they should never be subjected to any form of ill-treatment while incarcerated; individuals’ liberties should not be taken away for exercising their right to freedom of expression,” Jerjawi added.
Bahraini prisons have a long history of violations against prisoners of conscience, which consistently raises concerns about their humanitarian conditions. In recent years, several prisoners of conscience have reportedly contracted serious diseases, including tuberculosis, as a result of medical negligence, slow response time, and a lack of a healthy and safe prison environment.
Authorities in Bahrain bear full responsibility for the safety of the prisoners on strike, as medical care should be provided to those who require it; authorities should listen to the prisoners’ legitimate demands and allow them to exercise all their rights.
The Bahraini authorities’ practices against prisoners of conscience violate Bahrain’s relevant domestic and international obligations, as Act No. 18 (2014), the Reform and Rehabilitation Institution Act, guarantees prisoners’ rights to health, communication, education, religious freedom, and regular visits, and prohibits solitary confinement except for medical reasons. Moreover, the UN Convention against Torture, which Bahrain ratified in 1998, prohibits authorities from exercising any form of “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” against prisoners.
The National Institution for Human Rights in Bahrain must conduct an urgent visit to Jaw Prison to check on prisoners’ conditions there, and take all necessary steps to end any restrictions imposed on the exercise of their guaranteed rights.
Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor urged Bahraini authorities to unconditionally release prisoners of conscience in the country and respect the right of individuals to exercise freedom of opinion, expression, and publication, as well as to assemble peacefully.