Bahrain: UN expert alarmed by health of human rights defenders in prison GENEVA (15 September 2023)

The deteriorating health conditions of three human rights defenders held in detention in Bahrain was alarming, a UN expert said today. “I am extremely concerned about the deteriorating health of Mr Abduljalil Al-Singace, Mr Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Mr Naji Fateel. Medical negligence and lack of adequate care has left them in a worrying state,” said Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

“Both their detention and the ill-treatment they have suffered in prison violate the rights to free expression, opinion and assembly that must be guaranteed to human rights defenders,” she said. She also noted that the three human rights defenders have been subject of opinions issued by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention which found their detention to be arbitrary: Mr. Abduljalil Al-Singace (Opinion No. 2/2023), Mr. Naji Fateel (Opinion No. 65/2022), and Mr Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja (Opinion 6/2012). Lawlor pointed to a pattern of ill-treatment of Bahraini detainees including lack of access to adequate medical treatment. “Mr Al-Singace is unable to walk or exercise properly because of his physical impairment(s) which deteriorated in detention,” she said. “The treatments that are necessary to alleviate his condition have been repeatedly denied.” The expert said that crucial surgeries denied to Naji Fateel were resulting in chronic pain. “A metal rod that was supposed to be removed from the defender’s leg 10 years ago has become inflamed, making it difficult for him to walk,” Lawlor said.

“Mr Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, whose heart palpitations and tremors put him at increased risk of heart attack, struggles to maintain his range of motion,” she said. The right of these defenders to adequate treatment is enshrined in the Nelson Mandela Rules (Rules 24 to 35 of the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners), the Special Rapporteur said.

“The healthcare of prisoners is the responsibility of the State,” Lawlor said.

Other rights of the human rights defenders had also been violated in detention, the expert said. “Restrictions by authorities limiting access to television, newspapers and religious materials have affected the defenders’ ability to practice their religion,” she said. “This was most recently the case with Mr Al-Singace, whose ability to perform rites associated with the holy month of Muharram was undermined.”

The expert recalled that the right to freedom of religion or belief was guaranteed by Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Special Rapporteur urged Bahraini authorities to urgently address the health risks faced by human rights defenders.

“Swift measures must be taken to ensure that detainees have access to appropriate and adequate medical care,” Lawlor said. ENDS

*The expert: Ms. Mary Lawlor (Ireland) is the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.