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Bahrain: Calling for the release of all political prisoners and arbitrarily detained defenders

During the 54th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Bahraini women human rights defenders urged members to uphold their obligations toward the hundreds of political prisoners in Bahrain and pressure their government for their immediate release.

Civil society organisations, including ISHR, have requested States to urge Bahraini authorities to unconditionally release all those sentenced for their political opinions, including human rights defenders Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Abduljalil Al-Singace, and in the meantime, to ensure that they are provided with life-saving medical care to prevent an imminent tragedy.

On 9 August 2023, Al-Khawaja initiated a hunger strike alongside hundreds of other inmates demanding better conditions in Jau Rehabilitation and Reform Center. Al-Khawaja, the co-founder of both the Gulf Centre for Human Rights and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, has been unjustly imprisoned for 12 years.

He was arrested in 2011 for his role in peaceful demonstrations during Bahrain’s pro-democracy uprising and is currently serving a life sentence in Bahrain. Al-Khawaja’s health has deteriorated significantly during his imprisonment. He has been subjected to severe physical, sexual, and psychological torture.

Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace, a Bahraini academic and award-winning human rights defender serving a life sentence in Bahrain, has been on a hunger strike without solid food since 8 July 2021, in protest at the confiscation of his handwritten notes by prison authorities.

Hundreds of people detained on politically motivated grounds in Bahrain’s Jau prison have been leading a hunger strike calling for an end to solitary confinement, increased time outside of their cells, prayer in congregation at the prison mosque, face-to-face visitation without glass barriers, proper medical care, and access to education.

Serious human rights abuses in Bahrain have not been sufficiently addressed at the Council since a joint statement delivered by States in 2015. The danger to the lives and well-being of Bahraini human rights defenders and others unjustly imprisoned in Bahrain requires States to once again take up this issue as a matter of urgency.

During HRC54, Bahrain women human rights defenders Hajar Mansoor and Najah Yusuf delivered joint statements with ISHR under General Debates item 4 and item 5.

Read and watch the statements below:

Item 4 General Debate:

My name is Hajar Mansoor. I am a former political prisoner in Bahrain. I was subjected to psychological and physical torture while in prison.

My son, Sayed Nizar Alwadaei, is currently detained and serving an unjust 11-year sentence based on coerced confessions obtained under torture. 

He was arrested three days before me in 2017 when he was 18 years old, on politically motivated charges, as reprisals against my son-in-law, as was concurred by the United Nations working group on arbitrary detention. 

Last month, more than 800 political prisoners went on hunger strike. My son was one of them.

The prisoners demanded respect for their dignity, that the authorities put an end to daily 23-hour cell confinement and protested the policy of medical neglect leading to slow death of prisoners.

I visited him in prison during the hunger strike. My heart was squeezing in pain seeing him this skinny. After 36 days, the prisoners suspended the hunger strike following promises by the authorities that they would improve the prisoners’ conditions. It looks like they will not keep their promise.

Last week, the Secretary-General of the United Nations listed my son amongst the five Bahrainis who were targeted by their governments with reprisals for their communication with the United Nations.

I urge your Council to uphold its obligations toward the hundreds of political prisoners in Bahrain and pressure the government for their immediate release.

I amplify the slogan of the political prisoners taken from the saying of Imam Ali (peace be upon him): ‘We have a right, we are either given our right or we will ride a camel that is difficult to ride, and we will persevere no matter how far the distance.’

Item 5 General Debate:

My name is Najah Yusuf, a former prisoner of conscience and a victim of torture and assault by the Bahraini authorities. 

Today, I speak in solidarity with prisoners of conscience in Bahrain.

I will focus on one of the victims highlighted in the UN Secretary-General’s report on reprisals for their engagement with the United Nations. 

Hassan Mushaima is the oldest political prisoner in Bahrain. He is over 75 years old. He has endured terrible torture since his arrest in 2011 for leading efforts for democratic change in my country, Bahrain. 

Despite his advanced age, Mushaima is subjected to what he calls a policy of slow death due to deliberate neglect in providing medical care.

This is not the first year that Professor Hassan Mushaima has been mentioned in the UN Secretary-General’s report.

His case was also included last year and the year before, as well as in 2011. As his health deteriorates, this Council must not wait until next year for the report to address again the case of Hassan Mushaima but should take immediate action.

We urge you to exert pressure on Bahrain to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners and arbitrarily detained human rights defenders, and
  • Ensure humane conditions of detention, access to adequate health care and protection from psychological and physical harm for all prisoners in Bahrain.

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