Aya Majzoub, Bahrain Researcher at Human Rights Watch, said “the Bahraini Government should release people who should not have been held in detention in the first place.”
In an interview with Fatima Yazbek, the Head of the GIDHR Committee on Reports and Studies, Majzoub said that the Bahraini Government should be using this opportunity, noting that “we welcome the release of 1486 detainees. That was a very positive step, however it was insufficient, as there are many other political prisoners who should not have been imprisoned in the first place. These were imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising their right to free speech, free expression or free association.”
“Most prisoners should be released,” she stressed. “Everybody remaining in the prison should be given appropriate information on hygiene and they should be given supplies. The prison authorities should ensure that all areas accessible to prisoners, prison staff and visitors are disinfected regularly.”
She further stated “We spoke to two political prisoners who were in the jaw prisons when the COVID-19 outbreak started in Bahrain and they, unfortunately, told us that the prison authorities didn’t disclose their plans to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection and they didn’t insure that detainees had all the vital information they needed about the virus, including how to protect themselves against infection.” “The prison authorities didn’t take any additional precautions to prevent the spread of the virus including sanitizing the prison or providing detainees with cleaning supplies and protective gear,” another political prisoner told Majzoub.
Aya Majzoub highlighted that “Human Rights Watch and other rights groups have documented persistent problems with Bahrain prisons, including overcrowding and hygiene problems. As a result of lack of hygiene, scabies spread at the Dry Dock Detention center in January 2020 infecting more than half the population. In 2016, even a government agency found that some buildings in the Jaw Prisons suffered from bad hygiene, insect infestation and broken toilets.”
“This unfortunately hasn’t changed very much during the COVID-19.”
Majzoub expressed concerns about the condition of the prisons. She said “if the pandemic spreads in the prison, we would be very worried about its impact on the health of detainees.”
“We have ongoing concerns about the reliability and independence of these oversights human rights mechanisms. We have documented on several occasions that they weren’t transparent in at least one instance. They also shared confidential information that Human Rights Watch was privy to publicly.”
Aya Majzoub regretted that “Human Rights Watch hasn’t been able to enter Bahrain for several years. Also the information that we get from Bahrain is usually through remote interviews with detainees or their family members. Of course, we have been calling now for several years that we be allowed to visit Bahrain and we be allowed to independently assess the situation of the prisons there. We call on Bahrain to accept the visit of the UN special rapporteurs who can also visit prisons and detainees and provide an accurate representation of the human rights concerns in Bahrain,” adding that “unfortunately, despite making these calls for several years now, our calls have gone unanswered.”
The interview comes within a series of interviews carried out by the GIDHR in the framework of #Release_Bahraini_Prisoners campaign, launched by a group of Bahraini activists on social media outlets, to call on the Bahraini authorities to release Bahraini prisoners amid serious concerns over the Coronavirus outbreak.