A report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday called for an urgent independent investigation into allegations of the "severe abuse" of inmates in Bahrain's infamous Jaw Prison, including brutal beatings, torture, and the spraying of tear gas into prison buildings.
Jaw Prison, which is used to hold both criminal and political prisoners, is notorious for its harsh conditions and overcrowding, with some facilities reportedly housing more than double their official capacity.
According to accounts given by three recently released prisoners, inmates endured weeks of brutal torture after an operation began on March 10 to retake control of the prison by law enforcement following an outbreak of riots, which were sparked by a skirmish between prison staff and inmates in a visiting room. In the ensuing unrest, inmates expelled correctional personnel from various buildings in the complex.
Riot police, which reportedly included Pakistani and Jordanian guards, were said to have forced inmates into their cells by firing tear gas canisters inside buildings. After regaining control of them, police made prisoners exit through a human corridor of officers who beat them with batons, helmets, and table legs.
A former inmate informed HRW that he and other prisoners were then re-housed in outside tents for several weeks and repeatedly tortured and humiliated in variety of ways. They were beaten, forced to strip to their underwear, walk on their haunches while being soaked in frigid water, and chant pro-government slogans. Another former prisoner said that guards yelled sectarian insults, shaved some inmates' heads, and forced them to put their shoes in their mouths.
Some photos from a phone that was said to have been smuggled into the prison later circulated on social media, showing injured inmates and clouds of teargas inside the corridors of the building, which HRW said lent support to their claims.
"The more we learn about Bahrain's response to the Jaw Prison unrest, the more troubling the picture becomes," Joe Stork, HRW's deputy Middle East and North Africa director, said.
HRW called on the Bahrain's authorities to give medics and a UN special rapporteur on torture prompt access the jail, where the physical condition of many inmates is still unknown. Several families of detainees at the prison told HRW that they have had little or no contact with them since the riots were suppressed.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights, a non-governmental organization that the Bahraini government has banned since 2004, has reported multiple violations of human rights inside the prison, including the torture of inmates as young as 16.
The small Gulf island of Bahrain is ruled by the Saudi-backed Sunni Al Khalifa dynasty, and has faced persistent outbursts of unrest since 2011, when the country's Shia majority took to the streets to agitate for greater freedoms and democracy. The government quickly put down the demonstrations with support from more than 1,500 troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, but has faced intermittent protests and bomb attacks by anti-government forces since then.
Amnesty International reported earlier this year that Bahrain's security forces were responsible for widespread human rights violations over the last four years including torture, unfair trials, politically motivated detentions, and unlawful killings.
The 79-page document, published April, detailed dozens of cases of detainees — including political prisoners — in which they were mistreated, electrocuted, raped, and burned with cigarettes. The report called the situation in Bahrain a crisis and criticized the kingdom's Western allies, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and various European countries for their "unquestioning support" of the country's authorities and failure to pressure the government to improve its record on human rights.
Despite King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa's public pledge to reform security operations in the country to respect human rights following unrest in 2011, this year he approved a law that allows for a jail sentence of up to seven years and a 10,000 dinar ($26,500) fine for anyone that publicly criticizes him or defaces the state's national emblem.
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