2023 Portfolios: Largest Ever Strike in Jaw Prison Amid Deteriorating Prison Conditions

Marches in solidarity with prisoners on hunger strike
Marches in solidarity with prisoners on hunger strike

2024-02-12 - 10:43 p

Bahrain Mirror (2023 Portfolios): On August 7, 2023, hundreds of prisoners at Jaw Prison initiated a hunger strike to protest the harsh prison conditions within the facility. By the end of August 2023, the strike had garnered the participation of at least 800 prisoners, amplifying the challenges within Bahrain's primary detention center where political dissidents are held.

Dubbed the "We Have a Right" strike, the protest lasted for 36 days, with its key demands centered around improving prison conditions. These demands included ending the security isolation of prisoners, releasing those who had been in isolation for about a year, providing adequate health care and education, easing restrictions imposed on family visits, reducing the 23-hour cell confinement, allowing prisoners more outdoor time, and allowing them access to the prison mosque for congregational prayers. 

Beyond its immediate implications, this significant strike underscored an unresolved political crisis stemming from the government's reluctance to engage in dialogue with the opposition, opting instead for repression and violations. Bahrain currently detains over 1,300 prisoners of conscience, some of whom have died from diseases and severe medical neglect.

Despite government announcements of alternative punishment programs, open prisons, and restorative justice for minors, political prisoners, including juveniles, were excluded as the authorities have failed to adhere to such programs. This contributed to a worsening situation, with the Ministry of Interior adopting a stricter approach towards inmates.

At the beginning of the strike, the authorities responded through the Ombudsman (the official oversight body of the Ministry of Interior), claiming on August 12 that the prisoners' demands violated Bahraini law. However, the London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) refuted these claims, and considered that the Ombudsman's response contributes to perpetuating oppressive policies within Jaw Prison, while failing to address any of the genuine demands expressed by the hunger-striking prisoners.

Subsequently, a delegation from the Public Prosecution visited the hunger-striking detainees to record their demands, a move perceived as an attempt to circumvent claims and buy time for confronting the strike.

The hunger-striking detainees effectively mobilized public opinion within Bahrain by disseminating audio messages through social media platforms, highlighting their plight and the denial of their legitimate human rights by the authorities.

In a powerful show of solidarity, families of the detainees, including Mohammad Al-Dakkak's elderly mother, initiated hunger strikes in support of their loved ones, emphasizing their refusal to live normally while their children suffered in detention.

The ongoing and escalating strike coincided with an imminent visit by the Crown Prince to the United States to sign a new security agreement called the "Integration and Prosperity Agreement", drawing international attention to the prisoners' plight. International newspapers and human rights organizations made mention in their reports of the prisoners' strike. Consequently, the government was compelled, for the first time, to negotiate with the prisoners through Ministry of Interior officials.

The negotiations brought together prison building officials, prison representatives, and prisoners, who were nominated by other prisoners to represent them. They included: political prisoner Sayed Radhi from Building 7, political prisoner Ahmed Abbas, political prisoner Ali Haroun from Building 8, political prisoner Sayed Sajjad Ibrahim Al-Asfour from Building 9, political prisoner Jassim Al-Maljawi, and political prisoner from Building 10. The meeting was held in the presence of the prison director, deputy director, and a representative from the Interior Ministry.

Following the negotiations, the coordinating committee of the "We Have a Right" strike announced the suspension of the open strike until further notice, pending the implementation of agreed-upon measures with the prison administration.

The prisoners achieved significant victories, including the release of a substantial number of isolated prisoners back to regular cell blocks, while a number of others remained in isolation due to the Ministry of Interior's strict measures towards them. Most of the demands were met; however, concerns lingered regarding the Ministry of Interior's commitment to sustaining these improvements and avoiding the re-violation of the prisoners' achieved demands.

Arabic Version