20 April 2021 – Several political prisoners at Jau Prison in Bahrain remain incommunicado and unable to contact their families after being assaulted by riot police on Saturday 17 April, who entered Building 13 and violently attacked at least 35 inmates for holding a protest against poor prison conditions, the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) and Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) stated today.
According to an eyewitness who spoke with BIRD, the attack began after prisoners from Cells 3 and 8 of Ward 2 of the building held a ‘sit-in’ in the prison corridors, refusing to return to their cells. The attack was reportedly led by senior police officers Captain Ahmed Al-Emadi and Captain Muhammad Abdul Hamid and was captured by CCTV cameras and recordings made by riot police.
As well as being beaten, several prisoners were reportedly thrown face-first onto the ground repeatedly. One detainee, Sayed Alawi Alwadaei, was knocked unconscious after suffering a deep head wound which reportedly bled profusely. Another detainee, Saeed Abdulemam was seen being carried away by police. The present condition and location of these individuals is currently unknown; family members have been unable to contact them and prison authorities have refused to divulge any information as to their whereabouts.
Shortly after the attack, Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior released a statement proclaiming that “security and legal procedures were taken today against [prisoners], in which they were involved in chaos and violence against police personnel”. On 18 April, Bahrain’s National Institute for Human Rights, a quasi-governmental oversight body, denied all claims that prisoners were mistreated, stating that “what is being raised about [prisoners] being beaten and transferred to an unknown location is incorrect.”
Over a dozen family members of political prisoners, some of whom were injured in the attack, attended the prison in an attempt to locate their jailed relatives. Despite being promised that they would be permitted to call home within two days, the families report that their relatives have still not been permitted to make phone calls.
The sit-in was in response to poor prison conditions and the introduction of punitive measures against prisoners in Buildings 12, 13 and 14, including confinement to their cells 24 hours a day and suspension of phone calls. These overcrowded buildings, which are reserved solely for political prisoners, house 723 inmates, despite having a capacity of just 576 or 192 inmates per building. Tensions were exacerbated by the death of prominent political prisoner Abbas Malallah on 6 April 2021, amid allegations of medical negligence by prison authorities.
While Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior has officially confirmed just three cases within Jau Prison prison, COVID-19 has spread rapidly through several prison buildings since late March. BIRD has independently verified 33 cases, while on 18 April a prisoner told BIRD that at least 130 inmates were known to have recovered from the virus. The outbreak has sparked significant protests across the country, with demonstrations reported in at least 28 towns and villages. In response, Bahrain detained dozens for breaching COVID-19 restrictions, with family members of prominent political prisoners arrested and charged.
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director at the Bahrain Institute for Rights & Democracy (BIRD), commented: “This brutal and coordinated attack on political prisoners is the largest since March 2015 and is clearly a response to growing public anger at their failure to control the spread of coronavirus through Bahrain’s prisons. The families of those injured during the attack are beset with worry at the fate of their loved ones; Bahrain must immediately clarify their whereabouts and permit them to call their relatives.”
Husain Abdulla, Executive Director at Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), commented: “Hopes that the Biden administration might restrain Bahrain’s more authoritarian impulses have increasingly been disappointed as the regime continues to ramp up repression. Bahrain’s Western allies should unconditionally condemn this cowardly attack on political prisoners.”