On 22 April 2021, 12 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) sent a letter (attached) to King Hamad bin Isa of Bahrain expressing their deepest concern over the government’s management of the current outbreak of COVID-19 in prisons, notably Jau Prison.
The letter was signed by the following MEPs from 5 different European Political Parties and one independent MEP:
- Dietmar Köster, S&D
- Karen Melchior, Renew
- Andrea Cozzolini, S&D
- Özlem Alev Demirel, The Left
- Fabio Massimo Castaldo, NI
- Ernest Urtasun, Greens/EFA
- Bernard Guetta, Renew
- Hannes Heide, S&D
- Isabel Santos, S&D
- Javier Nart, Renew
- Nikolaj Villumsen, The Left
- Fulvio Martusciello, EPP
The MEPs voiced their concern about long standing poor conditions at Jau Prison and other facilities, as well as a lack of transparency regarding the health of prisoners, amid detailed reports published by human rights organizations, including Salam for Democracy and Human Rights, documenting the spread of COVID-19 in prisons and its impact. The MEPs urged the Government of Bahrain to adopt an urgent public health approach that is informed by international human rights standards instead of a punitive approach against prisoners who were convicted following unfair trials or who are prisoners of conscience.
The MEPs also mentioned their grievance over the avoidable death of prisoner of conscience, Abbas MalAllah, whose death came after the authorities prevented him from obtaining medical treatment over the years, and the repeated calls of his family to release him upon his long-term poor health from an injury he sustained after being was shot by an security officer during the Bahraini uprising in 2011. He was detained on 17 May 2011, and later sentenced to 15 years, six months’ imprisonment, for participating in the protests during the uprising. His trial is believed to have been unfair. The letter mentions the failure of the authorities to provide him with the urgent medical care he needed before his death.
The letter echoed the call made by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for the Middle East and North Africa to conduct an impartial and independent investigation into the death of Abbas MalAllah, and renewed the 25 March 2020 appeal by the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, who expressed her grave concern about the overcrowding of prisons across the world and for the release of the largest possible number of prisoners as a decisive measure to curb and limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
The 12 MEPs reminded the Government of Bahrain of the recommendations made by MEPs in the European Parliament resolution of 11 March 2021 on the human rights situation in the Kingdom of Bahrain, in particular the cases of death row inmates and human rights defenders, and urged the King to:
• Release all prisoners of conscience or those convicted, following unfair trials in previous years (such as non-military personnel tried by military court), where there is no realistic prospect of retrial;
• Release as many prisoners as can safely be managed in order to ensure public safety, drawing on pardons, alternative punishment provisions, as well as other provisions for early release on account of time already served and all cases in which there is a health concern;
• Conduct an independent investigation into every case of death in custody, including Abbas MalAllah;
• Use this watershed moment to re-evaluate and re-set the Government of Bahrain’s adherence to international human rights standards, as set out in United Nations’ human rights treaty bodies’ reports, and those of independent human rights advocacy groups, and
• Fully implement the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI)
The letter sent by the MEPs comes at a pivotal moment, with around 100 COVID-19 cases recorded in Bahrain’s Jau Prison as of today. Salam for Democracy and Human Rights and the Bahrain Forum for Human Rights indicated in a previous statement that the information received regarding the number of cases infected with COVID-19 is much larger than the number publicly announced. The remaining names of the infected cases have been unobtainable, however; the statement issued by the General Directorate of Reformation and Rehabilitation regarding the health status of the detainees infected with COVID-19 did not contain any detailed information regarding the real number of infected prisoners and contact tracing. This has raised more concerns for the families of the detainees due to a lack of confidence in the Bahraini Ministry of Interior.
Bahrain has witnessed hundreds of peaceful protests across the country since March 28 after the COVID-19 outbreak in Jau Prison. Demonstrations and protests were spread across 44 Bahraini areas: Abu Subai’, Abu Quwah, Eskan Al ‘Aali, Eskan Salmabad, Bilad Al-Qadeem, AlNabih Salih, Al-Janabiyah, Al-Diraz, Al-Dair, Al-Daih, Al-Sanabis, Al-Shakhurah, Al-Qadam, Al-Kawarah, Al-Malikiya, Al-Markh, Al-Musalla, Al-Ma’ameer, Al-Maqsha’, Al-Manama, Al-Na’eem, Al-Nuwaidrat, Al-Hamala, Barbar, Bani Jamra, Buri, Tubli, Jid Hafs, Jid Ali, Dar Kulaib, Damistan, Ras Rumman, Saar, Sitra, Salmabad, Samaheej, Sanad, Shahrakkan, A’ali, Karranah, Karbabad, Karzakkan, Maqaba, Al-‘Eker.
On 17 April 2021, Salam for Democracy and Human Rights, the Bahrain Forum on Human Rights, and the Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights released a statement after a bloody attack was initiated by Bahraini Special Forces on prisoners in Building 12 and Building 13 in Jau Prison, who were participating in a sit-in two weeks ago, following the death of fellow prisoner of conscience Abbas Mal Allah and after the prison administration used the spread of COVID-19 in Jau Central Prison to impose further restrictions, such as preventing the prisoners from communicating with their families.