Dr. Abduljalil Al Singace, a Bahraini prisoner of conscience currently being detained at Jau Prison, is a key figure in the democratic movement in Bahrain and a prime victim of the vilification of human rights defenders and political activists by the Bahraini government. A prominent academic and member of the former opposition parties Al Haq and Al Wefaq, Dr. Al Singace’s public presence exposed him to the persecution of the State which ultimately led to his arbitrary arrest and detention during the Arab Spring Uprising demonstrations in 2011. Dr. Al Singace was one of many individuals across the country that was subjected to violence and mistreatment at the hands of police and security officials following their engagement in the democratic movement. A decade later, Dr. Al Singace still sits in Jau Prison and continues to advocate for human rights and freedom of expression, as well as criticise the mistreatment and torture of political prisoners within the Kingdom. To understand the significance of Dr. Al Singace’s case, some more detail on his journey through the judicial and prison system in Bahrain is required.
Dr. Al Singace’s original arrest took place during the fallout of the protests in March of 2011 in the capital of Manama in Bahrain. On the 17th March, Dr. Al Singace was ambushed by 48 officers at his home and was arrested in the absence of an arrest warrant. Throughout the process of his arrest and detainment, Dr. Al Singace was beaten by police officers and dragged out of his home almost naked and without the benefit of his glasses. He was first taken to a police station for a number of hours before being transferred to AlQurain military prison where he remained for a significant period of his detention. Dr. Al Singace was not the only public figure to be arrested at this time. Known as the Bahrain 13, many important political and advocacy figures like Hassan Mushaima and Abdulhadi Al Khawaja were also arrested and served life sentences in prison as punishment for their challenge to the government.
The interrogation process of Dr. Al Singace was reflective of the government’s approach to political dissidence at the time, and what has now developed into a systemic pattern of abuse against much of the Bahraini population who express any form of dissent or criticism of the State. During his questioning, Dr. Al Singace was subjected to varying forms of torture which included beatings, threats of sexual assault and rape towards his wife and daughter, psychological abuse, and deprivation of basic resources including food and water. It has been reported that the victim was also forced into solitary confinement for two months, during which time he lost 10kgs as a result of inaccessibility to appropriate food portions. The charges made against Dr. Al Singace consisted of attempts to topple the system and overthrow the government. Due to the extensive torture perpetrated against the victim, Dr. Al Singace confessed under duress to the accused crimes, and was sentenced to life imprisonment by the military National Safety Court in June 2011. He has resided at Jau Prison ever since.
The past decade of Dr. Al Singace’s detainment has seen a consistent pattern of mistreatment due to the nature of his imprisonment as a political prisoner. His role within the political realm, his position as director of the Human Rights Bureau of the Haq Movement for Civil Liberties and Democracy, and his affiliation with the Shi’ite sect, has unfortunately made him the target of continuous harassment and abuse by security officials within Jau Prison. This is most notable in Dr. Al Singace’s access to medical treatments and care for his various ailments. The prisoner suffers from post-polio syndrome and a musculoskeletal condition which prevents him from standing or walking without the aid of crutches. During the periods in which he was tortured, officers often forced Dr. Al Singace to stand for long periods of time without his crutches and kick the leg that was not damaged, a torture tactic tailored to his chronic condition. Because of these long term illnesses, Dr. Al Singace requires regular checkups and treatments to maintain his health. However, in 2019 Human Rights Watch spoke to Dr. Al Singace’s daughter who reported that on the 28th August of that year, the prisoner was seen by a doctor for the first time since 2017. Any previous requests for medical attention were denied by prison officials up until that point.
Dr. Al Singace’s determination to expose the malpractice of the government and the judicial system, has taken shape in many forms of protest, most recently a hunger strike which he began on the 8th July 2021. The issues which provoked the initiation of this strike were varied. In the previous month, the prison refused to resurface the bottom of Dr. Al Singace’s crutches with rubber padding, causing much pain for the prisoner and making him vulnerable to falling. The consistent discrimination against his religious beliefs has also been considered a deciding factor in Dr. Al Singace’s choice to strike, but the primary reason cited by the prisoner himself, was the confiscation of a book he had been writing for the past four years. The book was believed to be centred on Bahrain culture and dialects, however when pressured by Special Rapporteurs who took up the issue with the Bahraini government, prison officials claimed that the book had not been confiscated but instead placed with the rest of Dr. Al Singace’s personal belongings. Even more, spokespersons for Jau prison claimed that the prisoner was attempting to smuggle said book out of the prison, which is deemed a violation of the prison’s regulations and thus required punishment.
This month Dr. Al Singace celebrated one year on hunger strike. He has abstained from solid foods for the entirety of this protest, only consuming tea, milk, sugar, and salt and water. He refuses to receive IVs with essential vitamins, even in periods where his health is severely at risk as a result of the hunger and his multiple health conditions combined. Throughout the year on hunger strike, Dr. Al Singace’s case has reached many milestones in terms of international interest and publicity. Members of the UK government spoke out on numerous occasions in the past 10 months in particular. Open letters in July and September 2021 were signed and submitted by multiple parliamentarians including former Green Party leader Baroness Bennett and Alistair Carmichael MP to the UK Foreign Secretary and the general UK government, calling for the immediate release of Dr. Al Singace who was named a ‘prisoner of conscience’ in the letter. On the 25th October 2021, MP Paula Barker tabled a motion for the immediate release of Dr. Al Singace who had been on hunger strike for 100 days at that point. Debate over Dr. Al Singace’s case continued in UK Parliament throughout the month of January 2022, with contributions by multiple party representatives including Jeremy Corbyn MP, Shadow MENA Minister Bambos Charalambous, and Conservative Father of the House Sir Peter Bottomley MP. During this time on the 15th January 2022, Dr. Al Singace celebrated his 60th birthday in prison, which was marked by tweets from Jeremy Corbyn MP and the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders.
The US was also involved in the promotion of Dr. Al Singace’s case, with US Senator Rubio calling for the prisoner’s release back on the 5th November 2021. Prior to this, a representative of the Associated Press met with the US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price during a press briefing to discuss Dr. Al Singace’s situation. On the 17th January 2022, the US Secretary of State received a letter written by a coalition of 27 human rights organisations that discussed the case of Dr. Al Singace. The European Union has also been vocal on the mistreatment of Dr. Al Singace during his prison term, as well as the situation for human rights defenders in Bahrain in general. Questions were submitted to Parliament concerning the case of Dr. Al Singace and other political prisoners by MEP Nikolaj Villumsen on the 17th November 2020, and MEP Chris McManus on both the 26th October 2020 and the 1st September 2021.
Throughout his hunger strike, Dr. Al Singace’s condition has deteriorated dramatically which is extremely worrying given the poor state of his health prior to this period. Family members and human rights organisations have reported Dr. Al Singace’s physical condition as very concerning, with the prisoner experiencing tingling and numbness in his muscles, severe back and neck pain as a result of a dislocated disc, exhaustion as a result of harassment and disturbance of sleep at night from prison officers, and his experience of vertigo and headaches causing shortness of breath. In addition to this, Dr. Al Singace’s immune system is dangerously at risk, with his white blood cell count extremely low. Denial of medical treatment and care has been a consistent abuse of power by Bahraini officials, and has further exacerbated Dr. Al Singace’s many illnesses. As of the 3rd May 2022, Dr. Al Singace had not yet received the results of an MRI taken in October 2021 for an issue not known to the prisoner himself. He is also being denied an MRI on his head that was specifically requested by a medical professional, as well as medications prescribed for his ongoing chronic pain.
As his hunger strike continues, the circumstances of Dr. Al Singace’s detention and state of health become more and more worrying for organisations following and advocating for his case. Dr. Al Singace stated previously that the only conditions under which he would consider ending his hunger strike were; the receipt of his new passport to his family members, the provision of a video call with his grandson to meet him for the first time, returning his research to his family and the receipt of photos and mementos from his family members, and finally the provision of necessary medication and treatment, and the results of the MRI he attended in October of 2021.
ECDHR calls on the Bahraini government to meet the demands of Dr. Al Singace which fulfil his basic human rights. ECDHR also calls on international bodies to pressure the government of Bahrain to improve the circumstances of Dr. Al Singace’s detention and to release the prisoner after a decade of imprisonment for falsified charges and illegitimate judicial proceedings.