7th APRIL 2015 - Vol.XXXVIII No.018
Local News

Activists ready for historic Jaw visit

HISTORY will be made on Saturday when the Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS) is set to become the first Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) in the Arab world to visit and interview prisoners. The visit to Jaw prison, which will launch a series of independent inspections of Bahrain's detention facilities, was confirmed by society secretary general Dr Abdulla Aldeerazi yesterday.

He described the historic event "a great step forward".

"I feel it is really great that for the first time in the Arab world, an NGO is being allowed to visit jails," he told the GDN.

"Normally, these kinds of visits are properly organised by governmental organisations or international organisations such as the Red Cross.

"This is the first time that a local NGO is being allowed and this is indeed a great step forward and a step in the right direction."

The BHRS's requests to visit prisons were turned down in 2003 and last year.

However, in June this year the government gave the society the go-ahead following a meeting with Interior Minister Shaikh Rashid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa.

The BHRS was asked to wait by the ministry after the first visit was postponed in September due to incomplete paperwork.

It was postponed again in October because of Ramadan, but officials last month agreed that a visit should be conducted before the end of the year.

A 15-member inspection team will interview as many of the 550-plus prisoners and 400 security and administrative officials at Jaw as possible during the visit on Saturday, which is set to start at 9am.

The prisoners reportedly include 96 with infectious diseases, including three Aids patients, who are kept in separate cellblocks away from other inmates.

"The inspection team will consist of doctors, nurses, lawyers, psychiatrists and human rights activists, all of whom are Bahrainis and members of the BHRS," said Dr Aldeerazi.

They will inspect all prison buildings and facilities, as well as food and health services, to see if they match international standards.

"We expect to be there for a few hours and hope to interview hopefully at least 70 prisoners," he added.

"The team will be divided into three groups, with one speaking to administration staff, the other will meet prisoners and the third group will observe and take notes for the report.

"The prisoners are of different nationalities and our team will have members who speak English, Urdu and Arabic.

"In the future, we hope to bring more people - including non-Bahrainis - to act as translators."

Dr Aldeerazi said it was understood that interviews would last about 15 minutes per prisoner or employee and they would be done face-to-face, with security personnel in the background.

"The watchman will not be at the table during the interview," he said.

"It will only be us and the prisoner."

The BHRS aims to compare conditions of Bahrain prisons with international criteria set out by the United Nations, with the findings to be included in the society's Annual Human Rights Report.

"We thank the Interior Minister for his understanding, co-operation and special support for an NGO to visit a local jail," said Dr Aldeerazi.

"Hopefully, we can conduct more visits in the future, although we have not yet decided how often these would be.

"We are taking things step-by-step, but for sure this is a great step forward for the Interior Ministry.

"This is good for Bahrain, good for human rights and good for humanity."

The society had earlier expressed hopes to conduct inspection visits on an annual basis and send its reports to concerned international organisations.

A hunger strike by prisoners held at the Central Investigation Directorate (CID), Adliya, last December sparked new efforts by the BHRS to inspect prisons.

In August 2003, another group of prisoners took over a building at Jaw prison and staged a two-week hunger strike.

They were calling for better conditions, medical treatment and monitoring by human rights organisations.

The ministry negotiated the end of the strike by promising to establish a joint parliamentary and ministerial commission to investigate the claims and in February last year improved medical care, social services and food.

But in December last year, dozens of prisoners at the CID headquarters staged a hunger strike and called for an end to delays in the justice system.

Some inmates were said to be have been held for up to nine months while waiting for the courts to hear their cases.

Meanwhile, two BHRS members, Isa Al Ghayeb and Hessa Al Khunairi, have returned from Jordan, where they attended a workshop on the rehabilitation and reforms of jails organised by the Jordanian Human Rights Society.

During their visit, they were able to visit jails in Jordan, said Dr Aldeerazi.

"It was a very positive trip and we have an insight into how jails are run in Jordan, where apparently prisoners get about BD1 a day and they also have social security, whereas in Bahrain we are yet to find out if prisoners here have that," he added.

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