Human Rights Watch condemns Qatar prison conditions as COVID-19 sweeps through inmates

Qatar has one of the highest COVID-19 infection rates in the world. (AFP/File)
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Updated 19 May 2020

Human Rights Watch condemns Qatar prison conditions as COVID-19 sweeps through inmates

  • Prisoners describe fear and panic inside overcrowded and dirty blocks
  • Dozens infected as authorities cut off medical help

LONDON: A COVID-19 outbreak has swept through Qatar’s main prison prompting calls for urgent measures to protect inmates and staff. 

Human Rights Watch said Monday that crowded and unsanitary conditions at Doha central prison were exacerbating the situation.

The group urged Qatar to reduce prison populations and ensure  prisoners have access to adequate medical care along with masks, sanitizers, and gloves.

“Qatari authorities should move quickly to avoid wider spread of coronavirus that risks infecting prisoners, prison staff, and Doha residents,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Qatar can start by releasing vulnerable prisoners such as older people and those held for low-level or nonviolent offenses and by ensuring that the remaining prisoners have adequate access to medical care.”

Qatar has already come under fire during the pandemic for an outbreak that swept through a district housing low income migrant workers.

Now it is inside the country’s main prison where the authorities are neglecting to tackle the virus. 

Six foreign prisoners described conditions to Human Rights Watch after several inmates contracted the virus.

Staff isolated the block containing the infected prisoners but only after transferring some detainees to other overcrowded parts of the facility.

The prisoners said their access to medical care was restricted leaving older and less healthy inmates vulnerable to the outbreak.

Guards said on May 2 that five prisoners had been infected. “Since then more prisoners, possibly many who are infected, have come to our block,” one prisoner said. “We have beds for 96 people, and now we have around 150 prisoners in this block.”

Another guard said later that 47 people were diagnosed with coronavirus.

The prisoners told Human Rights Watch that their block only had eight bathrooms for the 150 prisoners 

“People are sleeping on the floor, in the [prison] mosque, in the library; and everyone is scared of each other, we don’t know who could infect us,” the prisoner said. “At a time when we should be isolated from each other, we are being kept like animals in a shed.”

Almost 34,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Qatar, a country of just 2.75 million population. The government claims just 15 people have died from the virus.

On Sunday, Qatar introduced the threat of up to three years in prison for people who failed to wear face masks in public. 

Bahrain says it broke up militant attack plot in early 2020

Updated 21 September 2020

Bahrain says it broke up militant attack plot in early 2020

  • The plot targeting diplomats and foreign nationals was foiled earlier in the year
  • Authorities uncovered the plot after finding an explosive on the street believed to have been planted to target a ‘foreign delegation’

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: Bahrain said Monday it broke up a plot by militants backed by Iran earlier this year to launch attacks on diplomats and foreigners in the island nation home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet.
The announcement came hours after Saudi state television and a Bahraini local newspaper implied the plot was new in their reporting Sunday night, just days after the island kingdom normalized relations with Israel. Bahraini government officials, who routinely claim breaking up plots by militants backed by Iran, did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press over the confusion.
The details of the plot became public as tensions between Iran and the US remain high after the Trump administration claimed to have re-invoked all United Nations sanctions on Tehran over its nuclear program — something disputed by other world powers. The militants reportedly sought revenge for the US drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in January, something long threatened by his colleagues in Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.
Iran’s mission to the UN dismissed Bahrain’s claim of Tehran being involved as just “another instance in a long line of preposterous and false allegations, with no basis in truth.”
“It appears there is no limit to Iran-bashing by the US and its client states in the region, who are trying to divert attention from their recent betrayal to Palestinians and their own people,” mission spokesman Alireza Miryousefi told the AP.
The Saudi state TV report aired previously unseen footage of what appeared to be police raiding a home with a hidden passage. The footage showed assault rifles and explosives, apparently seized in the raid.
Nine militants have been arrested, while another nine are believed to be in Iran, the Saudi state TV report said.
Authorities uncovered the plot after finding an explosive on the street believed to have been planted to target a “foreign delegation,” the pro-government Bahraini newspaper Akhbar Al-Khaleej reported, citing the Interior Ministry. The ministry accused the Guard of supporting the militants, who also had surveilled oil sites and military bases, the newspaper said. The militants also planned on assassinating bodyguards of Bahraini officials, the newspaper said.
It wasn’t clear when all the arrests and alleged plots took place, as the Akhbar Al-Khaleej report referred to incidents dating as far back as 2017. The newspaper linked the militants to the Al-Ashtar Brigade, a Shiite group that has claimed responsibility for a number of bombings and attacks in Bahrain, including two that killed police. The group has been sanctioned by the US
Bahrain’s Interior Ministry later published what it described as a “clarification” saying the cases dated to the start of the year and “is not new.” However, media is tightly controlled on the island and access to such trials is routinely limited, suggesting authorities at the least encouraged the initial reporting.
Bahrain is home to the 5th Fleet, which patrols the waterways of the Mideast. Officials have worried in the past that the sailors and Marines attached to the base in Manama could be targeted, as well as others who make up the 7,000 American troops there. Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich, a spokeswoman for the 5th Fleet, declined to comment and referred questions to the Bahraini government.
Bahrain, an island off the coast of Saudi Arabia, just last week normalized relations with Israel alongside the United Arab Emirates, in part over their joint suspicion of Iran. The UAE has said their move also pushed Israel to halt its contentious plan to annex occupied West Bank land sought by the Palestinians. Civil society groups in Bahrain have opposed the normalization decision.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the reported arrests in Bahrain.
Iran under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi had pushed to take over Bahrain after the British left the country, although Bahrainis in 1970 overwhelmingly supported becoming an independent nation and the UN Security Council unanimously backed that. Since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, Bahrain’s rulers have blamed Iran for arming militants on the island. Iran denies the accusations.