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Bahrain: prisoners denied medical care despite serious illnesses - new investigation

Bahrain's main jail, Jaw Rehabilitation and Reform Center, holds around 2,500 prisoners © Amnesty International

In one appalling case, man with stage-three cancer sent back to prison just days after a biopsy 

‘Prisoners are frequently subjected to disruptions, delays and needless, petty cruelty’ - Devin Kenney

A new investigation by Amnesty International has revealed a shocking pattern of medical negligence in Bahrain’s prison system, where individuals with serious conditions like cancer, multiple sclerosis and sickle-cell anaemia are being denied specialist care and pain-relief medication. 

Amnesty spoke to the family members of 11 prisoners - held in various detention facilities around the country - and received credible reports of a healthcare system marred by negligence and cruelty.

Amnesty’s investigation points out that though Bahrain’s main prison - the Jaw Rehabilitation and Reform Center - has an official prisoner population of some 2,500, it has only two physicians (one per shift), and no more than two to three medical staff on duty at any given time. Meanwhile, the doctors at Jaw prison are general practitioners, and there are no specialist staff. 

Prisoners at Jaw in need of specialist care for illnesses requiring close medical management - such as cancer, sickle-cell anaemia, multiple sclerosis or dental surgery - are often denied transfer to appropriate medical facilities. The clinic typically dispenses the common over-the-counter pain-relievers Panadol or Restamol for all complaints, including ailments to which these have no application such as rashes or indigestion.

Devin Kenney, Amnesty International’s Gulf researcher, said:

“The reports we heard from prisoners’ relatives paint a stark picture of medical negligence and intentional ill-treatment in Bahrain’s prisons. 

“Although medical treatment is provided, it is far from adequate, and prisoners are frequently subjected to disruptions, delays and needless, petty cruelty.

“In one appalling case, a man with stage-three cancer was sent back to prison just days after a biopsy - the same individual recently had to wait for more than a month for his medication. 

“Another man has lost at least seven teeth since being detained, due to denial of dental treatment. 

“We are urging Bahrain’s authorities to take immediate steps to ensure all those in state custody can access adequate healthcare, as they are obliged to do under international law.”

Amnesty is calling on the authorities at Jaw prison, the women’s jail and prison at Isa Town, and all other places of detention in Bahrain, to abide by international human rights law and standards in their treatment of detainees and prisoners. They must ensure that detainees and prisoners are able to access - without discrimination - healthcare comparable in standard to that available in the wider community.

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