17 February 2020 – 8 UN Special Rapporteurs have expressed “grave concern” about the mistreatment of political prisoners Hajer Mansoor, Medina Ali and Nabeel Rajab in Bahraini detention centres, “which may amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.” In a letter to the Bahraini government, the experts documented a range of abuses conducted by prison staff, including medical negligence, religious discrimination and harrassment.
Isa Town Female Detention Centre
The experts’ revelations were revealed yesterday by The Independent, in Medina’s first interview since she was released last month under alternative sentencing legislation having served over two years at Bahrain’s Isa Town Female Detention Centre. However, the Special Rapporteurs demanded to know why both Hajer and Nabeel’s applications for alternative sentencing have been rejected, despite their eligibility.
According to the Special Rapporteurs, staff at Isa Town committed a range of abuses against Medina and Hajer during their imprisonment, including assaulting both women after their cases were discussed in the UK Parliament in September 2018.
Other abuses reported include the prison’s repeated failure to schedule appointments with specialist doctors or provide the results of medical examinations, installing a glass barrier during family visits preventing physical contact between the women and their children, as well as religious discrimination and other forms of harrassment.
The experts also accused the National Institute for Human Rights (NIHR), a human rights oversight body that has received training funded by the UK-taxpayer, of attempting to defame rights groups, including BIRD, for raising human rights concerns at the UN Human Rights Council. The NIHR’s vice-president allegedly threatened Medina that she would be returned to prison if she spoke to “anyone from abroad” about her experience in prison after her release.
When approached for comment by journalists, a spokesperson for the Bahrain Embassy in London asserted that Hajer and Medina’s allegations are “without substance,” adding that it is wrong to “characterise the Kingdom of Bahrain as ‘repressive’ or to claim that it practises or tolerates the mistreatment or torture of those in custody. In reality, no person is detained or prosecuted in the Kingdom of Bahrain for peaceful freedom of expression, nor for legitimate peaceful activism.”
However, while the Bahraini government has claimed that the prisoners are allowed out of their cells for eight hours a day, the NIHR has conceded that female prisoners are permitted only two hours a day outside of their cells.
The letter also highlighted the ongoing abuse of Nabeel Rajab, Bahrain’s most prominent human rights defender, at the notorious Jau Prison. Nabeel has reportedly been arbitrarily “isolated from other prisoners from the same category as him”, with prison authorities housing him instead in a cell with nine inmates “convicted of prostitution crimes, most of them foreign nationals.”
Nabeel’s health has deteriorated considerably in prison and he is often forced to wait months for consultations with specialist doctors for the range of illnesses he now suffers from, including breathing difficulties, arrhythmia, prediabetes, chronic dermatological diseases, hypertension and hypothyroidism.
The Special Rapporteurs concluded by urging the government to intervene to “halt the alleged violations and prevent their re-occurrence.”
Husain Abdulla, Executive Director at Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) commented:
“The revelations contained in this letter from 8 UN experts should be an alarm bell to all international governments that claim to defend democracy and human rights, particularly those in Washington and London. Hajer and Nabeel continue to languish in arbitrary detention, subject to treatment which may amount to torture.”
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy at The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) commented:
“The UN’s recognition that my mother-in-law Hajer, Nabeel and Medina have been appallingly mistreated is a message to the Bahraini regime that their abuses will not pass unchallenged. The UK must now be asked whether they have played a role in covering-up abuses in Bahrain and whether taxpayer-funded training is contributing to the suffering of political detainees.”
Photo of Nabeel Rajab from Conor McCabe via Flickr