Two Prisoners on Hunger Strike in Bahrain Tell of Their Ordeal
By Brian Dooley
Bahrain is facing a new human rights crisis as the largest prison protest in the country’s history escalates. Over 800 prisoners — more than half the prison population — are on hunger strike. The prisoners say they have been forced to this drastic action by years of abuse and neglect.
Among those on hunger strike is human rights defender Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, whose exiled daughter Maryam plans to return to Bahrain shortly to highlight his case and the protests, despite the personal risk to herself.
This week, Bahrain’s Crown Prince (and Prime Minister) is expected to visit Washington, and a delegation from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is expected to travel to Bahrain. The prisoners know these visits offer opportunities to draw attention to their protests.
The prisoners’ demands include:
- Ending security isolation for prisoners
- Providing access to adequate healthcare and education
- Reforming stringent rules regarding family visits
- Ending lockdowns in cells and allowing more time outside
- Allowing access to the prison mosque for congregational prayers
Two prisoners have told us about the daily reality of the protest.
One of them is 49-year-old Ahmed Jaafar Mohammed Ali, who has been in prison since he was extradited from Serbia in January 2022. According to him and eyewitnesses, prison guards pepper sprayed his face and sent him to solitary confinement after he staged a protest in the prison yard on August 15, 2023. During his time in solitary confinement, he said his hands were restrained behind his back, his ankles were restrained, and he was prevented from bathing for 16 days.
“We are between four walls, forbidden from everything, and everything is prohibited. I wake up around noon and remain lying down most of the time. I go to sleep after the dawn prayer.
“My body has changed significantly: I lost over 10 kilograms (22 pounds).
“Some prisoners now want to escalate the situation by refusing the medicines provided by the prison clinic.
“I joined the strike to support the demands and stand in solidarity with others. We’ve been silent for a long time, and the situation has deteriorated until it exploded. We had to take a stand to secure some of our rights, even if we couldn’t get them all.
“In prison, we discuss how we want to change the current situation, secure our rights, and get appropriate medicines and healthcare, especially for prisoners with long sentences, as there are no internal programs for them to benefit from during their sentences.
“What we hope from international institutions, especially the United Nations, is to change our current situation, give us our rights, improve our treatment, and lift restrictions and pressures, especially the isolation of political prisoners from other inmates in different buildings. This is used as a tool to pressure isolated prisoners and create unfavorable conditions for the prisoners they want to punish.
“Also, the unprofessionalism of the [Bahrain] National Institution for Human Rights and its misleading statements are worth mentioning. There is no reality in their daily press releases, considering the suffering endured daily in prison.
“There has been significant pressure to end the strike by the authorities, but I draw strength from demanding my rights and have told the authorities that I wouldn’t eat even if my health deteriorated or I came close to death.”
Sayed Sajjad says he has been in prison since September 2013, and is one of the inmates negotiating with the prison authorities.
“The prison administration treats us with a mentality of revenge. I demand the UN delegation to save us from slow death imposed by the prison administration. We are serving our sentences while also being subjected to punishment within the prison.
“I have been on hunger strike for 33 days and some hours. I feel weak and sometimes I can’t even see clearly. My weight was 75 kg (165 lbs), and now it’s 62 kg (136 lbs).
“Most of the time, we are lying in bed. Even during the time for outdoor exercise and sun exposure, we cannot go out. We only come out of our cells to make phone calls and then return. We have no energy. There is no medical care. Just now, one of the prisoners had a blood sugar level of 2.4, and was taken to the clinic because of his deteriorating condition. They refused to let him see the doctor at the clinic unless he drank juice or received intravenous nutrition.
“Currently, the police are the ones conducting examinations and determining who needs to see the doctor. The police have become the doctors now…
“We have critical and special cases with no treatment. The officers have also become doctors, canceling follow-up appointments and surgeries on security pretexts. For example, a prisoner waits for an appointment for over a year, and it gets canceled for security reasons.
“Our strength comes from knowing that if we stop now, the prison administration will retaliate against us in a worse way than the current situation. They will exact revenge on us severely.
“Most of the discussions between ourselves are about whether the administration is responding to our demands, and that the administration doesn’t mind if one of the prisoners dies during the strike.”