ADHRB said it submitted two statements on human rights issues in Bahrain at the UN Human Rights Council’s 51 sessions in Geneva. In its statements, ADHRB said it raised issues about mistreatment and abuse that political prisoners receive from authorities while behind bars.
ADHRB said that these abuses violate international standards and conventions significantly. In addition, the government has intensified its repression against activists since 2011, leading to the arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, and imprisonment of many opposition figures.
The government has embarked on a policy of criminalizing free speech and expression, showing its disregard for political and civil rights. There are currently around 1500 political prisoners. Bahrain has violated international standards, including the Nelson Mandela Rules on the treatment of prisoners.
These prisoners’ abuse includes medical negligence, religious discrimination, and harassment. The Coronavirus pandemic has only worsened the situation by giving the government a new pretext for inflicting abuse and intensifying the suffering of political prisoners. Even when 1486 prisoners were released due to Covid, only 300 of them were political prisoners.
Cases of Hassan Mushaima and Abduljalil AlSingace
The statement then presents the cases of Hassan Mushaima and Abduljalil AlSingace, two prominent activists who have suffered from immense abuse, including medical negligence. For example, Mushaima, a prominent political activist and leader of one of the major opposition groups, is in cancer remission and suffers from many chronic diseases including high blood pressure and diabetes and has been denied medication and regular checkups for prolonged periods.
Additionally, authorities have often inconsistently provided his medication, and do not adjust them based on his condition. Prison authorities have also quarantined him for two months under the pretext of providing care.
In May 2022, he suffered new symptoms from diabetes including abnormal swelling of feet with black spots, large swelling in his leg, severe knee pain, limping, and difficulty moving. Only after 2 months, in July 2021, was he moved to Kanoo Medical Center, where he remains and still suffers from extremely high blood sugar, blood pressure levels, undetermined damage to his kidneys and stomach, a cyst on his eye, and a cardiac muscle disorder.
Abduljalil AlSingace, another prominent activist, suffers from numerous chronic medical conditions, including poliomyelitis, which has left him paralyzed since childhood. Authorities have constantly denied him medical care and abused him physically and psychologically. For instance, authorities refused to replace the rubber padding on his crutches, thereby forcing him to use the worn-out ones that are uncomfortable and made him slip repeatedly. As a result of this maltreatment, he started several hunger strikes, with the most recent one starting on 8 July 2021, over 350 days ago. As a result, his health has deteriorated significantly. He was taken to a hospital then transferred to Kanoo medical center. Still, doctors have neglected his situation, visiting him only once per 2 or 3 weeks, and his request for painkillers is frequently delayed.
These cases represent an gross violation to international law, in particular, the Nelson Mandela rules. As a result, the statement calls on Bahrain to immediately drop all charges against human rights defenders targeted for their activism and unconditionally release all political prisoners detained without charge or on the basis of false accusations. Additionally, Bahrain should ensure the provision of adequate and necessary medical care for all prisoners, conduct independent and impartial investigations into allegations of mistreatment and torture, and hold those responsible to account to end the culture of impunity, and end the systematic campaign of reprisals against human rights defenders.
The aforementioned cases of Mushaima and AlSingace highlight how Bahrain has systematically used medical negligence as a weapon against political prisoners. Thus, the second statement in this item addresses the issue of medical negligence. Bahrain has used systematic and willful medical negligence against political prisoners, violating international law, as a form of reprisal for their activism. The sanitary and health conditions in prisons have been extremely inadequate. Cases of death have been reported due to these conditions, including Abbas Malallah who suffered from various chronic diseases but was denied proper care. This negligence has been manifested in the chronic understaffing of medical clinics, the inadequate and improper administering of routine medications, and inadequate and obstructed access to outside medical facilities.
The lack of a timely response to the tuberculosis outbreak in Jau prison in 2022 further demonstrates Bahrain’s disregard for prisoners’ rights. The outbreak started in June 2022 when it was confirmed that Hasan Abdullah Habib contracted tuberculosis. Habib, who suffered from other chronic diseases and was constantly denied medical care, was transferred to a medical complex due to pain caused by sickle cell anemia. There, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Despite his condition, he was moved back to Jau prison without any accommodation for his condition. In response, the Bahraini Ministry of Health released a statement stating that his condition was stable and he was receiving adequate care. However, a recording by Habib contradicts the statement and exposes the extent of medical negligence in Bahrain.
This statement concluded by calling on Bahrain to unconditionally release all political prisoners, in particular those who suffer from diseases, provide necessary and appropriate medical care for all prisoners, comply with international rules and standards regarding prisoner treatment, and allow human rights groups to visit Bahrain. It also calls on officials from the MOH, MOI, and internal human rights institutions to be transparent about the information related to medical conditions within prisons.
Culture of impunity and lack of accountability
The culture of impunity mentioned in the previous 2 statements is further highlighted in this third statement on Bahrain, in which ADHRB directed the attention of the council towards the lack of accountability in the country. In particular, security officers who often abuse their power and mistreat prisoners are left free from consequence. These officers who execute the repressive laws imposed by the government, evade all punishment in what is a plain violation of international law.
Bahrain is one of the most heavily policed countries in the world with approximately 46 security personnel per 1,000 civilians. This security apparatus has often been responsible for immense human rights violations, including arbitrary detention and warrantless home raids; enforced disappearance; torture; due process interference; substandard detention conditions; denial of healthcare; excessive force and police brutality; and religious discrimination. For instance, 6 children were detained from the Sitra village in December 2021, and are still being denied their basic rights despite the laws pertaining to the detention of children.
Use of torture:
Furthermore, the security apparatus has used torture as a tool for iterrogating political prisoners. The extent of their brutality has been notorious. Members of the royal family have also been accused of torturing political prisoners. The most common method of torture is beating with fists, weapons, or blunt objects. Other methods include forced standing, hanging, or stress, electric shock, and sexual assault, including rape. Torture is not only used during the interrogation peroid in order to extract testimonies, but also during imprisonment.
Officials who torture political prisoners evade punishment and instead are promoted. The country has continuously refused the UN Special Procedures entering the country and conducting investigations.
For these reasons ADHRB calls on Bahrain in the statement to fully implement all recommendations it has received from UN mandate holders. These recommendations include the release of all political prisoners, ending impunity, and reforming the judiciary and the existing accountability mechanisms. It also calls on the international community to impose sanctions on key perpetrators across all MOI agencies and within the Bahraini government.
Preventing Free and Fair Elections in Bahrain
The statement under item 4 reinforces how Bahrain has failed to reform its conduct toward civil and political society and improve access to freedoms in those spaces. As such, ADHRB pointed the attention of the council towards Bahrain’s prevention of free and fair elections. As such, Bahrainis are not represented and denied their right of self-determination.
The laws in Bahrain enable the government to disempower people to practice these rights. The government imposes “serious restrictions” and continues to violate the rights of freedom of expression and assembly, the freedom of press, and the freedom of association. Democracy includes the process of creating an environment where people are allowed to freely exchange opinions as well as gather together in order to have conversations in this free exchange. But the government has still failed to deliver on this. It also relies on legal prerogatives to maintain the status quo. For instance, terrorism laws are extremely vague and are used against polticial opposition and acitivsts. The cyber laws also complement this policy of silencing opposition. Moreover, Bahraini authorities have repressed the freedom of association by banning political and civil society groups either through forceful dissolution or requirements that all groups “register with the Ministry of Labor and Social Development.” Moreover, formal political parties are illegal as outlined in The Law of Associations. This prohibits civil society groups from “engaging in politics” and allows authorities a wide latitude to interfere in the activities of its civil society groups and determine if an organization should be dissolved.
Since the 2011 pro-democracy protests, the government has imposed a blanket ban on all demonstrations, marches, sit-ins, religious gatherings, and funeral processions.
Democracy in institutions:
In terms of legislative authority, the upper house members are appointed by the king and not elected. As such, they do not effectively check the king’s powers. The lower house is elected, but the laws imposed by the regime makes it nearly impossible for political movements or parties to run for elections. As such, Bahrain has scored very low regarding democracy and political rights indices. The king also chooses government members, and 7 of the cabinet members are members of the royal family.
For these reasons, the statement calls on Bahrain to remove abusive restrictions on freedom of expression, amend the press law to bring its provisions into compliance with article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, reinstate the operating license of the independent media outlet Al-Wasat, allow independent political societies to operate in Bahrain, and accept the requested visits of the Special Rapporteurs on freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.