A major COVID-19 outbreak at Jaw prison in recent weeks is a stark illustration of Bahraini authorities’ failure to respect minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners and to ensure prisoners’ rights to health, Amnesty International said.
The international organization quoted the testimonies of prisoners’ families, which indicate there have been scores of cases among prisoners and paints a bleak picture of prison conditions – already dire due to overcrowding – casting serious doubt on the government’s recent claims that the outbreak is under control.
Prisoners were not provided with face masks or hygiene supplies and other preventive measures, such as regular screening tests, were never put in place.
“There has been little transparency from the prison administration about numbers of COVID-19 cases and sick prisoners have faced restrictions on communicating with their families,” added AI.
“The Bahraini government and prison authorities have a clear duty to guarantee the right to health of those in detention and protect them from the risk of infection. They must not gamble with the lives of those in their custody,” said Lynn Maalouf, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
“The authorities must ensure all prisoners are provided with face masks and adequate hygiene supplies, that they can keep physical distance and are tested regularly,” he added.
Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior first disclosed the outbreak on 23 March, stating that there were three confirmed cases. It has not subsequently released any updated information on the number of infections.
According to data, the number of prisoners infected with the virus has risen to 97, so far.
Maalouf warned that overcrowding remains a major problem in Jaw Prison, despite the release of nearly 1,500 prisoners in March 2020 due to the epidemic.
On 9 April 2021 Bahrain released Mohammed Hassan Jawad, also known as Mohammed Jawad Parweez, one of the 12 civil-society figures referred to in this press release, alongside a number of other prisoners.
Mohammed Hassan Jawad had been serving a 15-year prison sentence for his peaceful participation in the February 2011 uprising.
“It is common to find a dozen or more prisoners being held in cells designed to accommodate eight people,” said Lynn Maalouf.
The Bahraini authorities must urgently address overcrowding at Jaw prison, starting with the release of all those arbitrarily detained, including the immediate and unconditional release of all those imprisoned simply for peacefully exercising their rights,”
While Bahraini authorities have taken the positive step of allowing prisoners to register for vaccination against COVID-19 and have carried out some prisoner vaccinations already, preventive measures to combat the pandemic at Jaw prison have been woefully insufficient, according to Maalouf.