The Bahrain Center for Human Rights is highly concerned about the deterioration in Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja’s health. Al-Khawaja requires urgent access to a specialised medical professional for an eye examination to prevent lasting loss of vision and potentially more severe neural complications. Al-Khawaja has been serving a life sentence in Jau prison since June 2011, when he was imprisoned on false charges, in an attempt to silence his criticism of the Bahraini government’s brutal response to anti-government protests in the country.
According to updates received from his family, in the past three weeks Al-Khawaja has developed problems in his right eye. He has complained about complete vision loss during daylight hours and of headaches on the right side of his head and behind his right eye.
His family has consulted an ophthalmologist in Norway, who concluded that, from the description of the symptoms, Al-Khawaja “is experiencing temporary loss of vision due to disturbances of blood supply to his eye (amaurosis fugax). Typically vision disappears rapidly (like a curtain), it is not accompanied by pain and gradually comes back. (…) Amaurosis fugax is usually caused by small blood clots (emboli) that obstruct the blood vessel to the eye. Sometimes episodes like this can be a warning sign of more severe episodes, like a large emboli that does not get removed and can cause lasting loss of vision in the eye or even cerebral strokes. (…) I would therefore strongly recommend your father being examined by an eye doctor. If what he is experiencing is indeed amaurosis fugax it is very important to identify where the emboli come from and get him started on drugs that reduce the tendency of his blood to make emboli. He should then also be examined for conditions like temporalis arteritis (usually accompanied by pain in the forehead upon touch and sometime pain in large joints like shoulders and hips). This to prevent lasting visual loss and more severe episodes like cerebral strokes so the possible repercussions can be severe.”
Read the ophthalmologist’s letter here.
The prison authorities have canceled his medical appointment and informed Al-Khawaja they would take him to an eye doctor if he agrees to a full strip search, which he has refused to do, due to the invasive nature of the search.
Al-Khawaja is not alone; other prisoners have had their medical appointments and hospital visits cancelled despite long waiting periods.
In addition to lack of access to medical care, prisoners are kept in locked cells most of the day, without means to access a toilet or bathroom, while shouting, screams and banging on cell doors from prisoners in neighbouring building 6 are heard throughout the day. Since 15 January 2017, when the Bahraini authorities executed alleged victims of torture, all daily newspapers have been forbidden. The prison inventory has been shut down and inmates can no longer access educational or shia television channels, despite the lack of political content featured on these channels. Family visitation hours have been cut from one hour to half an hour, and due to the arbitrary visitation schedule, relatives are having difficulties reaching the prison on time for scheduled visitations. Meetings between imprisoned fathers and their imprisoned sons have been canceled, as have visits by higher officers, whilst letters of complaint and requests are no longer answered. When walking outside their cells, prisoners are handcuffed and chained from their wrists to their ankles.
Since 20 March prisoners have testified that inmates are being denied access to paper and pencils in order to prevent them from writing, and that they have been denied access to tissue or toilet paper.
The implementation of these new regulations has led to political prisoners boycotting family visits in a form of protest.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls on Bahrain to:
- Allow Al-Khawaja to receive urgent and comprehensive medical care in order to prevent him suffering from blindness, and severe neural complications, without being subjected to an invasive, degrading, and unnecessary strip search
- Allow access to access medical care, in a timely manner, to all individuals currently detained
- Allow minimal facilities and basic hygiene items for detainees,in accordance with the basic principles on the treatment of prisoners