Time for Biden to Call for Prisoner Releases in Bahrain as Medical Neglect Continues
Abduljalil Al Singace is one of the Bahraini activists tortured in 2011 and given a life sentence in prison for his peaceful dissent against the kingdom's dictatorship. Human Rights First has advocated for his release for years.
He’s known across the world as a prominent Human Rights Defender. He’s an engineer by training, with a PhD from the Manchester Institute of Technology in England.
Singace was a well-known blogger for many years, and was arrested in 2010 on his return to Bahrain after speaking at a seminar in the British parliament where he described a “triad of suppression” in Bahrain: “The first is the use of force, torture and ill-treatment. [The] second is the use of the law. And [the] third is the judicial apparatus and procedures.”
He was released in early 2011 before being arrested again for his part in the large-scale protests for democracy and human rights in Bahrain. The uprising followed those in Tunisia and Egypt, and a broad coalition of opposition activists, human rights defenders, and others flooded the streets of Bahrain’s capital, Manama, calling for an end of oppression by Bahrain’s monarchy.
As a prominent human rights figure, Al Singace was targeted by the Bahrain government following four weeks of widespread public demonstrations, when the government violently crushed the protests in March 2011.
He was arrested, tortured, and given a life sentence in a military court after a sham trial with a dozen other prominent dissidents. Most of this group are still held in Bahrain’s notorious Jau Prison (please see our blog posting from April 6).
President Obama publicly called for their release in May 2011, saying “The only way forward is for the [Bahrain] government and opposition to engage in a dialogue, and you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail.” But since then, the U.S. government has fallen largely silent on this issue of justice, abetting this and abridging of human rights by a U.S. ally.
Bahrain remains a major customer for U.S. weapons. Like its neighbors Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain has bought billions of dollars of U.S. arms over the last decade.
Meanwhile, Singace and others in Jau Prison -- including Hassan Mushaima and Abdulhadi Al Khajawa, who were sentenced in the same trial -- have been denied adequate medical treatment during their detention. At 59, Singace suffers from sickle cell anemia and vertigo. Since suffering from polio as a child, he’s needed crutches to walk.
In a particularly cruel and petty action, the authorities in the prison refuse to replace the safety rubber tips on the ends of the crutches. One of his family told me this week, “the rubber tips get worn out, they become slippery and painful to use, and cause him pain in his back and neck. They also make it difficult for him to move, and increase the risk of him slipping and falling down, which unfortunately happens all the time.”
His family tells me that the prison authorities claim they can’t replace the safety tips for the crutches because they’re “out of stock,” and that he’s been without any for months.
These small rubber caps aren’t expensive -- around $7 a pair -- but they make an enormous difference to Singace’s mobility. This week I sent two of the tips to him in Jau Prison, and we’ll see if he’s allowed to receive them when they’re delivered.
In the wider context of thousands of arrests, torture, and executions, this refusal to make Singace’s crutches safe might seem like a barely significant detail, but this denial of something so small is typical of the vindictiveness of this U.S. military ally, which has a long history of mistreating and torturing peaceful dissidents.
Singace and all the other human rights defenders in prison in Bahrain should not be in detention at all, but while in jail they should be treated properly. There are UN-mandated minimum standards for the treatment of prisoners called the Mandela Rules that include the medical care of prisoners. These are clearly being ignored by Bahraini authorities.
This shameful neglect by the Bahraini authorities is equally shameful for those in the U.S. government who support and enable the Bahraini dictatorship.
The Biden administration says it is determined to put human rights at the center of foreign policy. That should mean reconsidering their relationship with all its repressive Gulf allies. President Joe Biden has promised to “recalibrate” the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain should be next.
Long repressive, Bahrain’s government has become even more so over the last ten years. The U.S. administration should overhaul its relationship with Bahrain, starting with public calls for the release of Singace, other prominent dissidents, and Bahrainis who have been jailed for their peaceful dissent.