What Tariq al-Hassan did not say to torturers if Coronavirus reached Bahrain's prisons

2020-04-13 - 10:34 p

On March 16, 2020, the Head of Public Security in Bahrain, Tariq al-Hassan, appeared during the press conference of the National Taskforce for Combating the Coronavirus (COVID-19), and said, "Certain buildings inside prisons were designated for isolation or quarantine in anticipation of any case, and we assure you that sterilization operations are continuing in all detention centers..."

This appearance did not resemble the circumstances of his previous appearances, as we used to see him in press conferences announcing discovering alleged security cells after multiple torture sessions. If he himself, Tariq al-Hassan, was subjected to some of the torture inflicted on prisoners of conscience, we would have seen him on Bahrain TV admitting that he was behind all the alleged terrorist cells.

In general, what is different this time is related to health security in the country. It is true that the official authorities took preventive measures or measures related to dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, but there is a dangerous concern zone similar to explosive mines, where the security authorities failed in managing prisons and taking responsible and necessary steps. We are talking about Bahraini prisons, in which no fewer than 4,000 prisoners of conscience are held in harsh conditions that do not conform to the standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners.

Before COVID-19 turned into a pandemic that ceaselessly invades the countries of the world, there were increasing media and human rights campaigns that talk about the conditions of political prisoners in Bahrain because the security services intentionally turned prisons into a fertile environment for torture. Torture techniques, including denial of treatment, are developed in this environment. How can we forget, for example, Hameed Khatem, who was one of those severely deprived of treatment, as he developed stomach cancer during his time in prison, and was released a year after his arrest, and died on January 31 after suffering from the disease? Another example is young former detainee Sayed Kadhem Al-Sayed Abbas Al-Sahlawi, who died three days after the death of Khatem, after severely struggling from illness. He was also deprived of treatment in prison, which he entered healthy, but left having cancer. In addition, Muhammad Sahwan was a victim of torture and health-care neglect. During his arbitrary detention, he did not receive any appropriate and necessary treatment to remove 80 pieces of shrapnel from his head that he got as a result of excessive use of force by the security services. He later died on March 16, 2017. Moreover, there are prisoners who need necessary health care, such as prisoner of conscience, Secretary General of the Haq Movement, Mr. Hassan Mushaima and others.

At the press conference, the Head of Public Security talked about a set of measures that will certainly not be sufficient for those who know closely the reality of prisons in Bahrain, where there is poor health care, overcrowding and accumulation of prisoners, who sleep in corridors, amid deteriorating prison conditions.

What is certain is that the arrival of the novel Coronavirus to prisons will cause a disaster whose consequences cannot be predicted, because the chances of the disease spreading in them will certainly be 100 percent, especially since the number of detainees exceeds the capacity of the prisons. For example, in some of the crowded cells that do not exceed 12 meters in size, there are 16 prisoners. In this room, there are four bunk beds, in which eight people sleep, and the rest sleep on the floor. The question is: How can social distancing between individuals with a minimum of two meters from all sides for each individual be applied here? In addition, prisoners have to use the toilets frequently and closely because there are only a few toilets.

Moreover, there are no necessary sterilizers or transmission barriers to reduce the chances of infection among prisoners. The closed ventilation system within prison units makes the spread of any disease in detention cells easy and increases the risk of transmitting the disease to prisoners. The low level of health care provided to detainees by the medical team concerned with treating detainees and delaying or neglecting response to detainees' requests when symptoms appear, increases the risk and makes the development of infections among prisoners and the worsening of their condition a certainty.

Hence, if the disease spread in prison, the following questions will be raised: What will the prisoners' reaction be? Will this repeat the March 10, 2015 experience of the uprising of prisoners? What will be the reaction of the families and the people? How will the security services deal with the loss of their ability to control the health situation in prisons? Will the prison administration face this with harsh repression that may take the lives of innocent people? Taking into consideration the escalating fear of prisoners and their families in the current circumstances, with the anticipation of this deadly pandemic, what if the disaster happened?!

There is something that the head of security, Tariq al-Hassan, did not say to the torturers and those involved in the prison administration. What the security authorities did not take into consideration is that poor health care in prisons, which is used as a form of ill-treatment, will backfire on the security personnel and the prison administration if the novel Coronavirus reached the detainees. This virus does not care about humiliating searches, torture tools, or screaming officers; it is transmitted to anyone who comes into contact with it or approaches it, and the security members or their commanders will not be immune to infection.

In addition, Tariq al-Hassan, who is ignoring the real formation of this pandemic, did not tell his torturers that COVID-19 will not ask the investigating officer - who forces the victim of torture to remain silent - for permission to move. The victim's breath while groaning from electrocution is enough to transmit the virus to a torturer, who has enjoyed listening to the groans of victims subjected to prolonged standing and sexual assaults for years. Does the officer, who puts his hand to end the call of a victim of enforced disappearance in Building 15 of Jaw Prison - that calls his family for a few seconds to tell them that he is fine although he is experiencing the most torturing days - realize that closing the phone may cost him his life due to COVID-19?!

What if the disease spread among the prisoners and the security members were infected? How will the security doctrine based on defending the monopoly of wealth, decision-making, and the rule of tyranny be? What Tariq al-Hassan, the Minister of Interior, the head of the National Security Agency, and the Supreme Defense Council, which makes the security policies of repression headed by the king, did not say is that they would not be able to protect the torturers from COVID-19. Therefore, release the prisoners before you burn the country and its people.

Baqer Darwish

*Chairman of the Bahrain Forum for Human Rights

Arabic Version