UAE: Poor detention conditions and Covid-19 outbreak

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Publish Date : 06/10/2020 15:47
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UAE prison authorities should take urgent measures to protect the mental and physical health of prisoners amid reported Covid-19 outbreaks in at least three detention facilities across the country.

State controlled media in the UAE can no longer conceal the extent of the coronavirus outbreak, throughout the city, throughout the labour camps and throughout the overcrowded and unsanitary prisons. “We can confirm that several individuals inside Dubai’s detention facilities have been infected with Covid-19, leaving many expats in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions in fear for their lives” said Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai, who has been working to repatriate foreign citizens from the UAE and Qatar during the crisis.

“The prison facilities and labour camps in the UAE present a nightmare scenario for the unchecked spread of the virus. They are overcrowded and unsanitary and there is little regard for the safety of these individuals. Despite confirmed cases, there is still no hand sanitizer, and many prisoners have been left without the most basic prevention supplies such as hand soap. This is quite rightly, spreading fear throughout the prison population, with many inmates seeing that an unpaid fine, a bounced cheque or missed payment could mean a death sentence.”

Also according to Human Rights Watch, family members of prisoners in al-Wathba prison near Abu Dhabi, as well as in al-Awir prison and the new al-Barsha detention center in Dubai told that prisoners in these facilities have exhibited Covid-19 symptoms or tested positive for the virus. They said that prisoners, including some with chronic health conditions, have been denied adequate medical care, that overcrowding and unsanitary conditions make social distancing and recommended hygiene practices very difficult, and that authorities are not providing information to prisoners and their families about the apparent outbreaks or precautionary measures.

“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,” said Michael Page, Middle East deputy director at Human Rights Watch. Several family members said they hadn’t been able to communicate with imprisoned relatives for weeks.

Human Rights Watch spoke to family members of seven inmates at al-Wathba. Beginning in mid-April, six prisoners in at least two wings said they were experiencing Covid-19 symptoms. At the start of the reported outbreak, family members said, prison authorities began transferring those exhibiting symptoms to other unknown locations without testing or providing medical care for weeks to the inmates who remained behind.
One prisoner in al-Wathba told his family he had tested positive but wasn’t transferred from his cell. Several days before, he told them he had severe pain in his joints and bones, couldn’t sleep or eat, and had not received medical care or pain medication.

Also Emirati Center for Human Rights has learned that Omani detainee Abdullah Al-Shamsi, has tested positive for Coronavirus in UAE Al-Wathba prison. Al-Shamsi has since been isolated with approximately 30 other people in a separate cell block. Al-Shamsi has serious health problems, he is mentally ill and suffers from physical ailments, including cancer, a disease that weakens his immune system.

In late April, UAE authorities released over 4,000 detainees, the majority as part of the traditional amnesty for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The amnesty did not allay family members’ concerns regarding overcrowding and unsanitary conditions. No one held unjustly based on their peaceful dissent was released, including the prominent human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor in al-Sadr prison, and the academic Nasser bin Ghaith in al-Razeen prison, both of whom suffered deteriorating health from abusive detention conditions and denial of access to health care.

Ahmed Mansoor had no access to running water, hence could not shower, and his toilet is merely a hole in the ground. As a result of two hunger strikes, the latest of which lasting at least five months, he has lost a significant amount of weight which has further exacerbated existing health problems and left him unable to walk unassisted. Systematic medical negligence proves to be another area of grave concern in the Emirati prison system. The lack or denial of essential health care appears to be a common theme across all UAE prisons, increasing the risk of fatalities. Dr bin Ghaith, for instance, suffers from high blood pressure and cardiomegaly (the enlargement of the heart), but continues to be denied vital blood pressure medication and healthcare. Similarly, prisoners living with HIV are denied regular access to vital and necessary treatment, putting them at grave risk.

The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases per day in the UAE continues to rise, with 994 recorded on May 22, the highest number recorded in a single day, and 39,376 total cases by June 9. It seems that all UAE prisons should further reduce prison populations to allow for social distancing. Government officials should also ensure that everyone in detention has access to adequate medical care.




“ UAE: Poor detention conditions and Covid-19 outbreak ”