12 June 2019 – Political prisoner Ali Al-Hajee issued a statement last week from Jau Prison describing the grave deterioration of prison conditions and the inhumane treatment he has been subjected to for the past six years. Consistent denial of medical care compelled him to launch a grueling hunger strike last year, and he now declares that he is prepared to strike again given that his basic human rights continue to be refused.
In his statement, Al-Hajee recounts how he has suffered ongoing physical and psychological torture since his 2013 imprisonment. His letter emphasises “the stark level of impunity enjoyed by state officials for human rights abuses in Bahrain” and the inadequacy of official complaints procedures. He also describes the ineffectiveness of British training programmes to Bahraini prison officers and their tendency to facilitate cover-ups of human rights violations.
Al-Hajee endured a 75-day hunger strike from November 2018 which protested over two years’ prevention from seeing his family as well as long-term denial of urgent medical care, but resulted only in empty promises by prison officials to meet his demands for humane treatment.
The Bahraini Embassy in London denied the testimonial of Al-Hajee and told the Morning Star that his torture claims are “unfounded”.
On 5 June, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office published their 2018 report on human rights and democracy, which describes the human rights landscape in Bahrain as “a mixed picture”. The report neglected to address the severe ongoing rights violations that are spotlighted by Al-Hajee’s statement: no mention was made of torture, of dire prison conditions nor of the punitive measures adopted against political prisoners, despite the violations occurred in 2018 being widely recognised by the international community, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Read the full statement below:
My name is Ali Al-Hajee and I am a victim of systematic torture serving a 10-year prison sentence in my country Bahrain. Since my imprisonment in 2013, I have been consistently subjected to a range of physical and psychological torture practices. Following the most severe of these incidents which took place in 2015, I submitted complaints to official local bodies such as the National Institution for Human Rights, the Ombudsman and the Prisoners and Detainees Rights Commission. This was, however, to no avail.
The officials that ill-treated me were not interrogated, let alone reprimanded; a further indication of the stark level of impunity enjoyed by state officials for human rights abuses in Bahrain. Many went on to complete their contracts with the Ministry of the Interior, some of whom maintained strong affiliations to the Jordanian Gendarmerie.
These efforts to engage in official complaints procedures rewarded me with nothing other than more punitive reprimands: the explicit denial of medical care and adequate medical treatment This flagrant violation of my most basic human rights drove me to instigate a hunger strike from 16 November 2018 in an attempt to heighten the profile of my deteriorating health, as well as my precarious and unjust situation, so as to compel the prison administration to act.
Nonetheless, the continued silence of the administration in the face of my hunger strike allowed an already urgent situation to further degrade over 75 more days, during which my health worsened but my hunger strike persisted. Only then was a meeting set up with the prison director. Here, prison officials vowed to meet my demands. It was promised that my physical health problems would be attended to with appropriate medical attention and services, atoning for the psychological detriment of being prevented from seeing my family for approximately 2 years and 4 months.
I was also repeatedly assured by British officials that they had secured the same guarantees from the Bahraini authorities that my health was and would be sufficiently cared for, and that these guarantees were reinforced by legal obligation. All such promises transpired to be empty.
The British training was not effective in improving prison conditions, nor did the visits to British prisons improve the performance of Bahraini prison officials. Rather, they have become occasions of rest and recreation, covering up the systematic legal and functioning failures in the Bahraini prison system. The most prominent example of this was a mass poisoning that took place in all prison buildings in early May 2019.
The British training has therefore served to both deny and cover-up human rights violations rather than counteracting them or remedying the deficiencies of prison institutions in Bahrain. I, therefore, request that the British government pressure the Bahraini authorities into conforming with their obligations regarding human rights law as detailed by the international conventions which Bahrain has adopted and ratified.
I would like it to be made known that I am willing to resume my hunger strike until all my rights to healthcare and family visitation are respected.
Jau Prison, Bahrain