9 November 2017 – Bahraini women political prisoners boycotted family visits today, after the Isa Town Women’s Prison administration reinstated a glass barrier in the visitation centre that was lifted due to a prisoner hunger strike in October. The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy condemns the prison’s U-turn, which violates the international standards on the treatment of prisoners and shows a disregard to the rights of the women prisoners.
Two weeks ago, four women political prisoners went on hunger strike demanding the removal of the glass barrier, the end to their humiliating and ill treatment by prison officers, and better health and sanitary provisions. After six days on strike, prison officers Lt. Col. Maryam Al-Barduli and Lt. Maryam Bahar met with the four hunger strikers and accepted their demands on 29 October.
Eleven days on from the end of the hunger strike, the glass barrier was reinstated today. This barrier, first installed a month ago, prevents the women prisoners from embracing their family members. Several women have boycotted family visits since the barrier’s installation on 3 October. In a statement the hunger strikers put out on 29 October following their meeting with the prison administration, they state that they wish that the Ministry of Interior would “respect the principles of human rights.”
The prison officers who met with the hunger strikers have both been in the spotlight over ill-treatment of inmates. Lt. Col. Al-Barduli had banned Ebtisam Al-Sayegh, a human rights defender previously imprisoned in Isa Town, from family visits for two weeks in early October, while in August Lt. Bahar had threatened political prisoner Hajer Mansoor Hassan with reprisals for complaining to the Ombudsman.
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy, Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy: “The prison administration has performed a scandalous U-turn and exposed their total disregard for these political prisoners’ human rights. The women political prisoners of Isa Town have very simple demands: to be respected as humans, to have a safe, clean environment, and to be able to embrace their families during visits. Bahrain’s western allies the US and UK should be pressing for these demands for dignity to be respected.”
Among the women who went on hunger strike and boycotted visits today is Hajer Mansoor Hassan, 49, the mother-in-law of Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei. Hajer, alongside her son Nizar and nephew Mahmood, were arbitrarily arrested in March 2017, tortured and coerced to confess to charges of planting a “fake bomb”. Despite the Ministry of Interior’s forensic analysis finding no DNA or material evidence tying them to the incident, the Higher Criminal Court sentenced them to three years in prison on 30 October. Human Rights Watch has called their convictions “collective punishment”, and Amnesty International has described it as a “chilling” reprisal against the human rights work of Sayed Alwadaei. Hajer’s first appeal court hearing is 20 November.
At the time of her hunger strike, Hajer said she would continue her strike “until they consider us human beings.”
The Bahraini authorities should ensure all detainees are treated with humanity and in accordance with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, known as the Nelson Mandela Rules, including contact with their relatives. Rule 43 (3) states that means of family contact may only be restricted for a limited time period and as strictly required for the “maintenance of security and order”.