27 October 2017 – The health of Bahrain’s women hunger strikers has deteriorated today as they continue their campaign for better treatment, which has entered its fourth day. Today, Hajar Mansoor Hassan rejected transfer to the Ministry of Interior Hospital after the head of the prison administration, Major Al-Bardooli, insisted that she be transferred in cuffs. Hajar, along with her son and nephew, face a court hearing on Monday 30 October when they may be sentenced to upwards of 3 years in prison. 27 MPs, 40 MEPs and 16 NGOs and 6 UN rights experts have raised concerns over the case, with MPs calling for action by the UK Foreign Secretary.
The hunger strikers’ demands are simple. They want an end to their worsening ill-treatment by the prison administration, greater privacy during phone calls, and the removal of a glass barrier, installed at the start of the month, in the visitation centre. The barrier prevents them from embracing their loved ones. Since early October, the women have been striking against visitation until the barrier is removed.
A fellow inmate also on hunger strike has said that Hajar is “between life and death,” and that she told fellow inmates she desires to write her. The detainees had to make a lot of noise to gain the authorities’ attention, which came at dawn. The authorities decided to transfer Hajar Mansoor Hassan to the Ministry of Interior Hospital (Qalaa) at dawn this morning, as she was in a severe state of exhaustion. The ambulance arrived three hours later, putting the delay down to it being a weekend in Bahrain. Head of the prison administration Major Al-Barduli insisted that Hajar be cuffed. Hajar rejected being transferred cuffed, and was visited by a doctor at the prison, as was hunger striker Medina Ali. Two other hunger strikers, Najah Al-Sheikh and Amira Al-Qashami, refused all medical treatment today.
Hajar has said she will continue the hunger strike until the prison authorities’ treatment of detainees improves, saying she would continue “until they consider us humans and not animals.”
Prison administrator Major Al-Barduli has previously insisted that prison officers receives training on human rights. Yet the authorities’ claims are challenged by the continued hunger strike, and reports of ill-treatment in Isa Town Women’s Prison. The problems in the prison’s administration, including increasing ill-treatment of detainees, appear to have grown since July, when human rights defender Ebtisam Al-Sayegh was arrested by the NSA and held there. Al-Sayegh was granted temporary release on 22 October.
On 24 October, Hajar was barred from making phone calls. When Hajar took her concerns to the responsible officer, the officer said the prison staff had no interest in helping her until she ends the hunger strike.
International Outcry over Hajar Mansoor’s Charges
Hajar is due to be sentenced on 30 October, alongside her son and nephew, in a political trial which has been described by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and six UN experts as a reprisal against the human rights work of BIRD’s Director of Advocacy, Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei. Hajar, Nizar Alwadaei and Mahmoud Marzooq were arrested in March 2017, tortured, and forced to sign coerced confessions to criminal acts. Facing prosecution under Bahrain’s notorious anti-terrorism law, if found guilty, they face upwards of three years in prison.
Yesterday, 16 NGOs sent letters to 11 state bodies, including the United Kingdom, United States and the European External Action Service, calling on them to take action ahead of the trial. Their voices are joined by 40 Members of the European Parliament, who have made similar calls to the European Union.
27 MPs have also written to the British Foreign Secretary urging action on the case. The MPs include Shadow Middle East Minister Fabian Hamilton (Labour), Tom Brake MP (Liberal Democrat), Sir Peter Bottomley (Conservative), Caroline Lucas (Green) and members of the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru. The MPs criticise current policy, saying “Despite this attack on his human rights campaigning here in Britain, our government has taken no discernable action to support Mr Alwadaei or his family.” They continued, “we reiterate our call for you to act on this distressing case ahead of the expected sentencing of Mr Alwadaei’s in-laws on 30 October.”
The UK’s Middle East Minister Alistair Burt was asked whether the Foreign & Commonwealth Office had raised this case with the Government of Bahrain. He states that “we continue to follow these cases closely” but did not state whether the British government had indeed raised the case.
Tom Brake MP, one of the signatories to the letter, said: “The persecution Sayed Alwadaei and his family have faced for standing up for human rights in Bahrain is a shameful act which scars Bahrain’s already damaged reputation on human rights. The failure of the UK Government to stand up for Sayed is a sad sign that the UK Government is no longer willing to stand up for campaigners gallantly fighting for human rights in the Gulf region.”
Julie Ward, British MEP: “We hope this letter encourages High Representative Mogherini to take real action to end the intimidation of Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei’s family. The European Union has a duty to support and advance human rights and to protect human rights defenders. The European Parliament in particular has a strong record on standing up for human rights.”
Maya Foa, Director, Reprieve: “Boris Johnson has an urgent duty to intervene in this case. Sayed is a UK resident who advocates courageously for victims of abuses in Bahrain, including torture survivors and those facing unlawful death sentences. Bahrain is punishing his innocent family as retribution for his peaceful activism. The UK, which strongly supports Bahrain’s criminal justice system, cannot allow its ally to attack human rights defenders in this way. The Foreign Secretary must pick up the phone and demand the release of Sayed’s relatives without delay.”