Responding to the report of torture and other ill-treatment committed against Shi’a cleric Sheikh Zuhair Jasim Abbas, held in solitary confinement at Bahrain’s Jaw prison and denied communication with his family since late August 2020, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Lynn Maalouf, said:
“We are extremely concerned by these claims of torture and the vulnerability that Sheikh Zuhair Jasim Abbas, or any other detainee, is exposed to as a direct consequence of being held incommunicado and in prolonged solitary confinement, in complete isolation from the outside world. No detainee should have their human dignity violated.”
After months of being held incommunicado by Bahraini authorities, with no contact with his family or lawyer, Abbas was finally allowed to speak to his family on the phone on 17 and 18 January. Abbas described in detail the torture and other-ill treatment he had suffered over the past five months. This includes being held in solitary confinement for months on end, being beaten by guards with fists, feet and hoses, being subjected to sleep deprivation and receiving water only twice per day.
Abbas also told his family in the call that he faced repeated death threats from prison guards, who taunted him that he was about to be executed and should prepare himself. While he was speaking about his abuse in prison, his family heard guards begin to shout at him and the call was cut off.
“The Bahraini authorities must immediately order a halt to the torture and ill-treatment of Sheikh Zuhair Jasim Abbas, ensure he is given a medical examination by an independent doctor and end his solitary confinement. Bahrain must also open a full inquiry by the Special Investigation Unit, the only government monitoring body with the power to prosecute the perpetrators,” said Lynn Maalouf.
Prior to 17 January, Sheikh Zuhair Jasim Abbas’ family had not heard from him since August, after prison visits were halted at the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in Bahrain and the authorities failed to provide him alternative means of communication.
Abbas’ family approached the National Institution for Human Rights (NIHR) and the Ministry of Interior Ombudsman to secure contact with him, with no result. On 11 January, the NIHR tweeted that Abbas—identified only as “Z.A.”—”enjoys all his rights but refuses to exercise his right to communicate with his family by phone.” This resulted in his family making public their concerns for his safety. On 19 January, the prison administration denied that there was any truth to the family’s account.
Abbas’ placement in incommunicado detention coincided with Jaw prison guards’ beating of inmate Ali AbdulHusain al-Wazeer until his arm was dislocated at the shoulder. That case was also referred to the NIHR and the Ombudsman, neither of which took any effective action. Months after his beating was reported to authorities, al-Wazeer still had not been examined by a forensic doctor, resulting in key medical evidence being lost and therefore undermining any future investigation. Mistreatment in prison has been a recurring problem in Bahrain, as Amnesty has documented several times in recent years.