COVID-19 pandemic spreads inside Emirati prisons
UAE authorities have obscured details of the cases of the coronavirus outbreak inside prisons and have refused to provide the real number of infected prisoners, as revealed in a report from the International Center for Justice and Human Rights (ICJHR).
According to the report, the government has lost control over the virus in detention facilities and failed to implement necessary precautionary measures.
Earlier this month, the first coronavirus case was confirmed in a UAE prison. Abdullah Awad Al-Shamsi, a prisoner of conscience at Abu Dhabi’s al-Wathba prison, had tested positive for the virus. According to local sources, over 110 detainees have now been infected at al-Wathba prison.
Al-Wathba, alongside other UAE detention facilities, is notorious for its overcrowded detention conditions and lack of basic hygiene which has resulted in the virus spreading across several wards of the prison. Prison authorities have failed to take precautionary action recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to mitigate the impact of the virus.
“Crowded, unsanitary prison conditions and widespread denial of adequate medical care are nothing new in the UAE’s notorious detention facilities, but the ongoing pandemic is an additional serious threat to prisoners’ well-being,” stated Michael Page, the Middle East deputy director at Human Rights Watch. The UN has also said that social distancing in such conditions is “practically impossible”.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has spoken to family members of inmates at the new al-Barsha detention centre in Dubai, al-Awir prison and al-Wathba where 6 prisoners have said that they were experiencing Covid-19 symptoms in mid-April. One family member had received a call on 25 May from his imprisoned relative stating that “he’d been lying in bed for two days without being able to move at all; he said he can’t even reach the Quran next to him, and that he’s feeling a blockage in his chest, as well as fever and fatigue.” Prisoners have also been denied essential medical treatment.
Several family members said they hadn’t been able to communicate with detained relatives for weeks. HRW wrote to the UAE interior minister on June 7, 2020 but has received no response.
It is the Emirati authorities’ responsibility to provide concerned family members with regular updates about their relatives’ wellbeing and to be transparent about the number of cases of coronavirus infections in UAE detention facilities. Authorities must also act quickly to mitigate the impact of the virus and control its spread by reducing prison populations and providing essential medical care. At the forefront of any such measures must be the concern for prisoners’ health and wellbeing.
ICFUAE has launched a campaign urging the Emirati authorities to release all prisoners of conscience and conditionally release those who suffer serious or terminal illnesses.