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)
Short Url
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. 

UK govt: British women strip-searched in Qatar

Updated 29 October 2020

UK govt: British women strip-searched in Qatar

  • London describes incident as ‘unacceptable’
  • Strip-search took place in Doha airport

LONDON: British authorities have formally registered concerns with Qatar following reports that two women who are UK nationals were strip-searched in Doha.

The forced medical examinations were carried out in Doha airport after authorities discovered a newborn baby in a bin.

This, it is claimed, prompted them to conduct “urgently decided” intrusive examinations, described as “absolutely terrifying” by one of 13 Australian women on a flight to Sydney who were subjected to them.

The British women were part of a group that was forced to disembark flights before having their underwear removed for a female medical professional to carry out an examination assessing if they had recently given birth.

The complaint was registered by the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which said in a statement: “We are providing ongoing support to two British women following an incident in Doha. We have formally expressed our concern with the Qatari authorities and Qatar Airways and are seeking assurances an unacceptable incident like this cannot happen again.”

Australian officials said passengers from 10 flights leaving Doha on Oct. 2 were subjected to the ordeal.

“The advice that has been provided indicates that the treatment of the women concerned was offensive, grossly inappropriate, and beyond circumstances in which the women could give free and informed consent,” said a spokeswoman for the office of Australia’s foreign minister.

Sources familiar with the incident have said the newborn is alive and in care, and the mother has not been identified.