We are disturbed by the use of unnecessary and disproportionate force by police special forces to dismantle a peaceful sit-in in Bahrain’s Jau prison on 17 April. According to accounts received from eyewitnesses of the incident, special forces threw stun grenades and beat detainees on their heads, badly injuring many of them. The authorities reportedly took 33 protestors to another building in the prison, where they are being kept incommunicado, and have been unable to make contact with families or lawyers, in violation of both national and international law.
The inmates had been protesting about conditions of detention, in particular the lack of access to medical treatment. The sit-in began on 5 April, after a political prisoner, Abbas Mal Allah, died after reportedly being denied timely access to essential health care. The lack of health care in the overcrowded Bahraini prisons has been an issue for years, but has become a chronic problem during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The spread of the pandemic in Bahrain’s prisons has sparked protests across the country. In response, the authorities have detained dozens of protesters for breaching COVID-19 restrictions.
We call on the Government to immediately launch a thorough and effective investigation into the violent repression of the sit-in at Jau prison. We also urge them to provide information on the well-being of the 33 prisoners currently held in incommunicado detention, and to ensure they are able to contact their lawyers and families.
In addition, we call on the authorities to take effective steps to ensure the timely provision of medical treatment for inmates as and when needed.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, several decrees have been issued granting special pardons to 1,253 prisoners, and a total of 1,747 offenders have benefited from alternative sanctions, according to the Public Prosecution. There may be some overlap between these two groups.
We call on the authorities to consider releasing more detainees to ease prison congestion, and reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading throughout the prison population. In particular, those being detained for expression of critical or dissenting views, protected by international human rights law, should be released immediately.