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Bahrain: Open Letter from Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja on his 21st day of hunger strike to the High Commissioner for Human Rights

2015-05-10

His Excellency Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Palais Wilson Geneva, Switzerland 

Re: Humanitarian appeal from Jaw Prison 

Geneva, May 10, 2015,  

Your Excellency,

I started a hunger strike on the 20th of April due to the ongoing violations occurring at Jaw prison where I have been held as a prisoner of conscience for the past 4 years. Building 10 in Jaw prison has become known as the torture building, and I have personally been hearing the screams of the victims. The type of torture I have heard in the last few months is the worst since 2011, and the violations that have occurred over the past period are indescribable. The prison administration has systematically attempted to prevent this information from getting out by harassing us during phone calls and family visits. The Government of Bahrain has recently announced a limited “royal pardon” to receive positive international reactions, while the horrific violations in the prisons continue.

Attached to this letter is compiled information about some of the violations at Jaw prison recently in addition to reports written by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty. I have written numerous letters to authorities in Bahrain about the situation in Jaw and informed them of my hunger strike; my letter to you comes after the authorities have refused to address the situation and put an end to the ongoing violations. The letters I sent:

  1. To the prison administration on the 30th of March
  2. The Minister of Interior on the 1st of April
  3. The Supreme Judicial Council on the 6th of April
  4. Follow up letter to the Minister of Interior on the 4th of May

I have heard about your dedication to human rights from family and colleagues, and urge you to pressure the Government of Bahrain to allow access to Jaw prison by international bodies like your office. It will make significant difference to the situation inside Jaw prison if there is public attention from your office on the matter. The crackdown inside Jaw prison continues to the time of writing this letter, and I appeal to you to act quickly.

Best regards,

Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja

Jaw Prison

 

Summary of Situation in Jaw Prison (Attached to the letter)

The following report written on 1/5/2015 is based on information taken from the Bahrain Mirror website, which in turn has obtained its information directly from relatives of political prisoners being held at Jaw prison. ( http://abbas-alsameea.no-ip.info/ )

Background

On the 10th of March, 2015, a prisoner and his family were reportedly mistreated by prison guards during their visit. This caused a prison riot in which prison guards were forced out of the buildings and following takeover by the prisoners. The riot ended with the involvement of special security forces that used both teargas and shotguns indiscriminately (which caused widespread suffocation and fainting, and at least 10 cases of birdshot pellet injuries). Prisoners were then transferred into the prison yard where they were left out in the open for 10 days before two large plastic tents were brought (310 prisoners were placed in one, 318 in the other, while the rest were transferred to another area) where most of them still remain almost two months later. Calls that lasted around one minute per prisoner were allowed after 15 days, reportedly accompanied by beatings, which is why many prisoners refused to take them. Visits were cancelled for a period of 1 month for some prisoners, and for up to 2 months for others.

On the 1st of April there was a dust storm that caused suffocation and several cases of fainting among prisoners due the large number of prisoners placed together and the poor protection from the strong wind and dust that the tents provided.

Those who were accused of being the ringleaders of the riot (around 120 prisoners) were transferred to building 10. It had been previously used to hold foreign prisoners who would spend a few nights there before being transferred back to their countries, but had been turned into a torture center following the March 10th events.

Previous prison guards of Pakistani and Yemeni origins were all replaced with guards of Jordanian origin.

Torture Methods

-  Severe beatings with the use of batons, guns, thick shingles, police boots, and metal rods.

-  Direct or indirect starvation, as prisoners were not given any food or drink on the 10th and 11th of March, and later prisoners who requested meals or to use the bathroom following them would be beaten.

-  Denial of medical treatment despite the severity of some injuries.

-   Hanging by handcuffs from the ceiling fan or cell doors, or hanging in what is known by the prisoners as the “onion position”.

-   Denial of basic hygiene needs like showering, bathroom use, and change of clothes. When bathroom breaks were finally allowed (after around 10 days), they were only for limited periods of time (twice a day, for 1 or 2 minutes) and were accompanied by beatings. Showers remained forbidden for many prisoners for a period of 42 days, and many prisoners remained in the same clothes for over 6 weeks.

-   Due to the lack of bathroom access, puddles of urine and filth had formed in the prison yard which guards forced prisoners to lay in. This resulted in the outbreak of scabies.

-   Shaving off prisoners’ hair and half of their beards and/or mustaches.

-   Leaving prisoners out in the prison yard for 10 days despite the scorching heat during the day and the cold wind at night. This left most of them unrecognizable to their families as they had become several shades darker.

-   Pouring cold water on prisoners out in the prison yard while undressed during cold weather, or inside their cells when asleep. Due to this, prisoners who had previous birdshot pellet injuries suffered from bouts of shivering and spasms in addition to tachycardia.

-   Sleep deprivation.

-   Continuous insults to the prisoners themselves, their families, their religious sects, and religious leaders.

-   Degradation through ordering prisoners to do things like count cracks in the asphalt or the openings in the fence, to sing and dance, or to “slither like a snake”.

-   Prisoners were forced to sing the national anthem, repeat praise of the ruling family, and insult their religious sect and leaders.

-   Sleep deprivation.

-   Prisoners were forced to run through two long columns of guards who all beat them as they passed.

-   Others were forced to crawl for a distance of around 15 meters while being beaten by prison guards.

 Individual Cases

 -  Talib Ali (sentenced to 50 years imprisonment) stated that police dogs had been brought to intimidate him, and he had received countless beatings which resulted in injuries all over his body, swelling in both his eyes, and bleeding from his neck. He had been held at the seclusion building when the events of 10th march had occurred, which is where he was taken from his cell, his hand and feet chained together, and then beaten with batons and metal rods as he was ordered to admit to inciting prisoners in building 1. He was also accused of teaching other prisoners taekwando, as he was known to have experience in the sport. His condition then required him to be transferred to Salmaniya Medical Complex for treatment, where the treating physician was appalled by his condition.  He stated that the officer in charge of his interrogation had attempted to kill him by trying to break his neck. He was then transferred to the tents where the guards singled him out in not allowing anyone to approach or speak to him. Any that did would be beaten.

-   Mohammed Al-Shamali (17 years old, imprisoned since he was 14) was the one most spoken about amongst the prisoners due to his condition and his young age. He suffered a deep scalp laceration due to torture, which had to be repeatedly stitched up as guards would not stop beating him on his head. When the doctor was told to repeat the stitching for the fourth time, he said that the wound edges were too weak and had to limit treatment to covering the wound with gauze. He also stated that if they had waited another 10 minutes Al-Shamali would have been dead. Al-Shamali is among the prisoners who were taken to building 10, where he told his family he would be woken up every morning at 6am by having cold water poured on him, and then would be hung by his handcuffs from either the cell door or the ceiling fan. Afterwards, between 2pm and midnight he would receive several beatings. His mother stated that she had gone to General Secretariat of the Grievances and had told them about her son’s condition. They informed her that they had sent a delegation and had confirmed the severity of his condition but refused to give her any more information or take any action.

-   Naji Fateel, a human rights defender, is also one of the prisoners taken to building 10. Other prisoners report seeing guards drown him in a puddle of filth in the prison yard until he almost suffocated. He was also forced to drink from the same water. He was hung in what is known amongst prisoners as the "onion" position. He was also seen following torture sessions to be unable to walk without support. Naji was due to have iron rods removed from his leg a year after an injury suffered in 2012, but prison authorities continue to neglect his medical condition. According to prison authorities, Naji has been refusing visits in protest since the March events.

-   Ali Sangoor, also held in building 10, has suffered from a dislocated hip due to guards forgetting him hanging for an extended period of time. When he was allowed a family visit on the 12th of April, he was carried in by 2 of his fellow prisoners as he could not walk or move on his own. Other families in visits at the same time were witnesses to this.

-   Ali Haroon was seen unable to walk on his own on the day of his visit (April 12th). His family stated that he had several broken ribs and bruises all over his body. He was forced to sit on just one side due to the injuries he suffered from. He also cried during the visit, stating that "they are going to kill us".

-   Abbas Al-Sameea (25 years - handed a death sentence for alleged killing of 3 policemen) was brought to his family visit on the 12th of April with a broken nose, his front teeth missing, and swollen gums that he stated prevented him from eating or drinking. He had placed tissues in his ear to stop its bleeding.

-   Redha Malallah has a wound on his thigh that had festered and begun to smell badly due to prison authorities refusing to treat him.

-   AbdAli Al-Singais received daily beatings on his head that were not stopped until he bled.

-   Dr. Saeed Al-Samahiji was repeatedly beaten on his eyes.

-   Shaikh Mohammed Al-Mahfoodh, crippled due to polio, was also reportedly very weak due to repeated beatings and torture.

-   Hassan Habib was forced to stand in front of all the other prisoners and shout “I am Hassan the dog who broke the window”.

-   Jaffar Al-Kuwaiti suffered fractures to his arm.

-   A prisoner whose family requested his name not be mentioned for safety reasons did not recognize his daughter when he was brought out to see his family. They stated that he seemed to not know where he was or why he had been brought to the visiting area.

Other

-   Several prisoners requested that their families avoid mentioning their names or filing official complaints as that would make them targets for further mistreatment and torture.

-   Relatives complained of poor treatment from the guards at the visiting area, and repeated delays or cancellations of their appointed visits.

-   Only one copy of the Qura'an was provided for all 128 prisoners in building 10.

-   Some of the Pakistani guards who empathized with the prisoners were reprimanded or transferred as a result.

-   Personal belongings had not been returned to prisoners, and they were forced to buy underwear and hygiene needs from the prison shop.