21 January 2020 – 125 prisoners detained at building 17 of Bahrain’s Dry Dock Detention Centre will be launching a hunger strike to protest the lack of access to medical care, following an outbreak of the skin disease scabies which has allegedly infected over 50% of inmates, the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) has learned.
The 75 prisoners held at building 17, all under the age of 21, have long complained about poor and unhygienic conditions of incarceration which enabled the outbreak of what it is believed to be scabies, a highly infectious infestation of mites in the skin requiring urgent medical treatment and immediate sterilisation of clothes and bedding. While the outbreak was reported in building 17, it is possible that the infestation has spread more widely.
Two prisoners, who prefer to remain anonymous, complained that having only two sets of uniform is not enough, and that officers regularly raid their cells, taking any spare clothing they may have. Prisoners are demanding access to adequate medical treatment and improved prison conditions.
Yesterday, the National Institute for Human Rights (NIHR) published a contradictory statement, which first downplayed the health concerns as “allergies” and then called on inmates to follow recommended health procedures to prevent the skin “disease” from spreading. The NIHR further failed to identify the number of inmates affected.
Meanwhile, inmates continue to be subjected to a policy of isolation for indefinite periods of time. This punishment appears to be targeted towards those making international calls from the prison.
Lieutenant Fahad Al Kooheji, who oversees building 17, has been identified as the main individual responsible for prisoners’ mistreatment.
Commenting, BIRD’s Director of Advocacy, Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, said: “This appalling outbreak of disease reflects the level of suffering these young Bahraini inmates endure daily, and it is likely due to the overcrowded and unsanitary environment. Not only is the NIHR’s dismissal of the outbreak as allergies yet another cover-up, it also displays basic ignorance of public health as allergies are not contagious. This farcical statement epitomises why independent bodies, including UN experts mandated to assess health and torture, must be allowed access to the country to carry out credible investigations.”