The Deliberate Medical Negligence of Prisoners' Health in Bahrain: Systematic Slow Killing
What is deliberate medical negligence and how do Bahraini authorities use it as a tool of suppression and political punishment?
According to testimonies from prisoners and human rights organizations, the Bahraini regime consistently practices deliberate medical negligence as a means to violate human rights and carry out systematic slow killings, particularly targeting political prisoners. This practice not only violates the fundamental principles of medical ethics and human rights, but also sheds light on a disturbing deliberate behavior that involves using healthcare as a tool for political punishment. The purpose of this paper is to shed light on the issue of medical negligence as a violation of human rights and its use as a form of punishment against political prisoners in Bahrain.
Medical Negligence as a Violation of Human Rights:
The Right to Health: The right to health is recognized as a fundamental human right in international legal standards. Medical negligence deprives individuals of their right to receive appropriate medical care, leading to health complications and, in severe cases, death.
Torture and Ill-Treatment: Denying access to treatment or providing inadequate medical care to political prisoners can be considered a form of torture or ill-treatment, as defined by international human rights law.
Ethical Violations in Medicine: Medical negligence directly contradicts the Hippocratic Oath and the principles of medical ethics, which emphasize the duty of doctors and healthcare professionals to provide good care for all patients, regardless of their political or legal status.
Some practices of the Bahraini regime regarding intentional medical negligence include:
1- Preventing access to appropriate healthcare: This is done by canceling doctors’ appointments, prohibiting examinations by specialists, or scheduling appointments without proper equipment or within the hospital. Instead, general examinations are conducted by doctors who are unfamiliar with the patients’ conditions in a room that resembles a box, lacking any medical facilities, outside the military hospital.
An example of this is the case of Abdul-hadi Al-Khawaja. On the night of February 28, 2022, he was transferred to the emergency hospital due to a heart problem. The doctor there requested that Al-Khawaja be referred to a heart specialist as he was at risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke. However, the prison administration continues to prevent Al-Khawaja from accessing an appointment with a cardiac specialist, and he has been denied this appointment seven times so far.
Strong criticism has been directed towards the overall situation in the prison, particularly the deprivation of proper medical treatment, by international entities on multiple occasions. Al-Khawaja described the situation, saying, “When I look at the big picture, I can’t help but conclude that it is a form of slow death. They are trying to end our lives by denying us treatment and healthcare, especially for cases that are much worse than mine. It seems that this decision has been made at the highest levels.”
Additionally, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja was diagnosed with glaucoma on April 1, 2022, but has been deprived of treatment for it up until the time of writing this paper. He has a family with a history of glaucoma, as his father was treated for it and his grandmother also suffered blindness as a result. Medical appointments with an ophthalmologist have been consistently denied since the date of diagnosis until now.
Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja also suffers from excruciating back pain caused by the torture he endured during his detention in 2011, and he continues to be deprived of treatment for it to this day. He was beaten to unconsciousness in front of his family on April 9, 2011, during which he sustained four fractures in his face that required a four-hour surgical procedure for reattachment. Immediately after the surgery, he was subjected to torture at the military hospital, and he was later transferred to an underground military prison where he endured severe physical, psychological, and sexual torture for nearly two months.
Here, we witness several other cases of deliberate medical negligence, proving that Al-Khawaja’s situation is not an isolated case but rather a systematic behavior by the management of Jaw Prison to expose prisoners to multiple risks and exacerbate their illnesses. Intentional medical negligence is a deliberate act aimed at killing prisoners.
2- Delaying the arrival or disappearance of medications: Even some doctor appointments, medications are delayed or arrive after the symptoms have changed. Prescription items like glasses, which the prison administration prevents the prisoner’s family from purchasing, have been delayed for approximately ten months. In severe cases, medications for some prisoners disappear, and they are deprived of them.
The family of the prisoner Mohammed Hassan Al-Rammal spoke about the disappearance of the prescribed medications for him from the military hospital, instead being received by security guards and not delivered to him. Mohammed Hassan Al-Rammal is a political detainee in his sixties and suffers from multiple diseases that require proper treatment. His body cannot tolerate medical negligence and the lack of discipline in their use as prescribed by the doctor, which exposes him to the development of other health problems, especially since he has lost a significant amount of weight due to repeated hunger strikes to access his right to medical treatment. In May, he went on a hunger strike due to the continued denial of access to the medications he needs.
Al-Rammal ended his hunger strike after a long struggle but resumed it on May 18, 2023, due to the return of medication deprivation.
3-The humiliating and painful transportation through the “Turkish bus“:
The Turkish armored vehicle, also known as the “Turkish bus,” is considered one of the most notorious symbols of the inhumane treatment of prisoners in Bahrain and is primarily used as a means of prisoner transportation. The harsh metal structure of the vehicle turns it into an oven during the summer, leading to cases of nausea, vomiting, headaches, and other health symptoms. There are no windows or ventilation in the vehicle, leaving prisoners in a suffocating environment for consecutive hours. The vehicle is characterized by small plastic seats surrounded by bars to prevent prisoners from standing or moving, especially as they are forcibly restrained with shackles. There are vehicles of two sizes, some containing one cell or two cells, each with six seats. The space inside the cells is so narrow that it cannot accommodate six individuals.
4- Failure to adhere to the recommended dietary restrictions by doctors: In the case of Abdulhadi Al Khawaja’s health, for example, a suitable dietary regimen was recommended to manage the heightened risk of cholesterol. However, the prison administration refused to comply with these recommendations for five years.
5- Torture of prisoners and mistreatment within the military hospital, followed by their return to the same hospital for treatment: The military hospital serves as a site for the torture of prisoners, where they are beaten while awaiting treatment. The torture of Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, for instance, has been documented within the military hospital. Security officers directly tortured Al Khawaja after undergoing a major jaw surgery while he was blindfolded and restrained to the hospital bed. Subsequently, Al Khawaja was forced to return to the military hospital for treatment. Furthermore, the military hospital refuses to provide the medical files of prisoners to their families. For instance, the family of the detained and torture victim Mohammed Al-Doski is denied any information about his health condition.
6- Deaths due to medical negligence:
Severe medical negligence has resulted in a number of deaths. On June 9, 2021, a political prisoner sentenced to life in Jau Prison, Hussein Barakat, passed away after contracting the coronavirus. Human rights activists held the Bahraini government responsible for his death, stating that dozens of others like him suffer from medical negligence.
In an audio recording released by the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (Bird), Barakat’s wife stated that she had requested to see him and access his medical file after a phone call in which he expressed his belief that he was going to die due to the severity of his illness. In the call, he urged his wife to take action to persuade the authorities to allow him to seek treatment outside the prison.
One day later, Barakat’s wife received a phone call from the prison informing her that her husband had passed away due to the coronavirus. Bahraini activist Ebtisam Al-Saegh shared a testimonial from prisoner Fadel Albiladi in Jau Prison, in which he states that Hussein Barakat was in critical condition. Albiladi mentioned that the prison administration denied Barakat access to oxygen and medication, and refused to transfer him to a hospital or provide proper healthcare. He also mentioned that Barakat suffered from severe low blood pressure and high blood pressure, which the administration neglected to treat.
The death of Bahraini political prisoner Abbas Mal Allah, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison, further exemplifies the extent of medical negligence in Jau Prison. The Ministry of Interior announced on its website that he suffered a heart attack on the morning of April 6, 2021, without mentioning the chronic illnesses he had been suffering from for the past ten years.
According to Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), Abbas Mal Allah was subjected to severe torture and was shot with a Shozen bullet at close range during his arrest. As a result, he suffered bruises on his face and chest due to the beatings he endured while being unconscious. He remained in the intensive care unit for over a week.
Mal Allah also suffered from “heart problems, stomach ulcers, and colon issues without receiving proper treatment.” According to the testimony of his fellow prisoner Mahmoud Isa, Abbas collapsed at 12:10 am, and his companions shouted and called for the police, banging on the doors to get their attention, but the prison administration did not respond to their cries for help in providing him with first aid.
Despite the prisoners’ shouting, Abbas was not transferred to the hospital until 1:30 am, which means it took the guards 45 minutes to call an ambulance despite his complete loss of consciousness.
The right to access healthcare is a universally recognized human right, and international organizations have acknowledged that Bahrain applies a horrific pattern of medical negligence to prisoners in Bahraini prisons. Those who suffer from serious illnesses such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, and sickle cell anemia are deprived of specialized care and pain-relieving medications. Medical appointments and medications are withheld, and dietary restrictions are manipulated for pure harm.
We demand in the “Free Alkhawaja” campaign that the authorities in Jau Prison, as well as all other detention facilities in Bahrain, adhere to international laws and human rights standards in their treatment of detainees and prisoners. It is essential to ensure that detainees and prisoners have access to the healthcare standards available in society without discrimination.
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