International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances

Today, August 30th, marks the UN International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances. Enforced disappearances are not a rarity in Bahrain, and there have been countless reports of activists and their loved ones being detained incommunicado by government forces for limited or extended amounts of time. The tactic of enforced disappearance is a tool the government uses to sow terror in its citizens and further suppress a population that already lives in fear and habitually self-censors itself from expressing discontent with the regime.

One of the most recent examples of systematically orchestrated enforced disappearances was the Jaw Prison incident of April 2021. Following a COVID-19 outbreak in the severely overcrowded site, along with the medical negligence of inmates by authorities, tensions began to rise. The frustrations peaked after political prisoner Abbas Malallah died as a result of the deterioration of his health. During his arrest in 2011, he was shot in the legs and beaten. He had been imprisoned for the past ten years, throughout which he was subjected to some of the most severe forms of physical and psychological torture. Abbas also suffered from stomach ulcers and heart and colon problems. The prison system neglected him and he was not treated for health issues that, under normal conditions, could have been easily treated. The day of his death, Abbas woke up thinking he had a simple incidence of heartburn and fainted shortly following that. The guards’ response was that of negligence and disregard, which makes it seem that cases like these are a cause for apathy, and not compassion on the part of authorities. He was taken to Salmaniya hospital, where he was pronounced dead the day after. The exact events of Abbas’ case and the mistreatment he experienced is detailed in the following article by BCHR.  Abbas was tortured and neglected to the last moments of his life, moments that even the most cruel of individuals should respect and offer compassion for.

His death was met with apathy on the part of the Bahraini authorities, which seemingly absolved itself of any responsibility regarding his abuse and death, claiming he had died of “natural causes.” The Jaw prisoners, however, did not meet his death with silence, but with solidarity. On April 5th, 2021, inmates staged a sit-in to protest against the mistreatment Abbas and countless others faced, and the overcrowding that was behind the COVID-19 outbreak that was happening at the time. The government’s response to this was not providing adequate healthcare or PPE to the inmates, but stun grenades and beatings. Guards reportedly took 33 prisoners and held them incommunicado, where they couldn’t contact anyone, a violation of national and international law. Due to the lack of transparency, it is very difficult to know the details of these enforced disappearances, and the mistreatment that the prisoners are subjected to. It is reported that at least 60 inmates were involuntarily disappeared for over two weeks.

“The government has taken steps to grant pardons and alternative sanctions to those incarcerated in order to decrease the likelihood of COVID-19 outbreaks, but the overwhelming majority of those individuals are not political prisoners” says Nedal Al Salman, president of Bahrain Center for Human Rights.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls on the Government of Bahrain to:

  • End the forced disappearances of political dissidents
  • Grant pardons to political prisoners to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in prisons
  • End the practice of torture and abuse that are so rampant in prisons.