UNESCO marks the International Day of Persons with Disabilities with a week-long program from 25 November to 3 December 2020. This year’s theme is “Building back better: towards an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 world by, for and with persons with disabilities”. UNESCO is also organizing a global campaign to raise awareness of this issue through a campaign entitled ‘Share your Story for Development’ on social media platforms, with a focus on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on persons with disabilities.
In this context, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights participates in this event to remind of the story of prisoners of conscience who have special needs and who suffer the most severe forms of torture and insults without regard to their physical disability and their special needs.
The first person to come to mind on this day is the detainee, Dr. Abdul-Jalil Al-Singace. He suffers from polio syndrome, and used to move either in a wheelchair or using his crutches when he was outside the prison walls. However, after he was arrested on the background of his political views, he was subjected to torture and various forms of physical and psychological humiliation. He was deprived of his glasses, his books, his pens, and everything that allowed his voice to remain heard. He was not allowed to obtain a replacement of his crutches, which made him stumble and fall, and he crawled from the cell to the bathroom on his stomach.
Dr. Al-Singace received the 2012 Hellman/Hammett Award for the year 2012 as a blogger. On his blog “Al Faseela”, he calls for freedom and the implementation of a democratic constitution for the country. Several international organizations have called for the immediate release of Dr. Al-Singace, who is serving a life sentence on the background of expressing his views, which is one of the basic rights guaranteed in the Universal Charter of Human Rights.
The second case is that of the blind detainee Jaafar Maatouk, who lost his eyes in a painful incident. He is serving a ten-year prison sentence in solitary confinement without regard to his disability, because he is blind and needs someone to take care of him. Maatouk was denied access to treatment, which is an inherent right guaranteed by international treaties and covenants. The Center, in partnership with nine Bahraini human rights organizations, launched a media campaign calling for the release of Maatouk, and for him to receive treatment that would give him hope to restore his eyesight, before his condition worsened and was difficult to cure. However, Maatouk is still in Jaw Prison, as an additional case in the record of human rights violations in general and prisoners of conscience in particular in Bahrain.
These are not considered individual cases, as there are many individuals with special needs in Bahraini prisons, such as the young man Mahdi Kwaid, who suffers from stunted growth and is serving a prison sentence of two years and nine months.
Bahrain continues to ignore its obligations towards international treaties to abuse prisoners with special needs, especially in light of the spread of the Covid-19 virus, which puts their lives at definite risk. Therefore, BCHR calls on all international organizations and parties concerned to urge the Bahraini government to:
- Adhere to the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, especially those relating to medical services;
- Ensure that prisoners’ rights are respected;
- Allow local and international committees to visit prisons and follow up on sick prisoners’ affairs;
- Release all prisoners who were imprisoned for their political participation or expression of their views;
- Implement the Alternative Penal Code.