URGENT: The UAE must immediately release prisoners of conscience and prevent the spread of the Coronavirus in prison

This post is also available in: arالعربية (Arabic)

Geneva, on April 9, 2020

We write to bring to your consideration the current situation of prisoners in the context of the Coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19). The first cases of Coronavirus were identified in the UAE in late January 2020. So far, over 2600 cases have tested positive for the virus according to official statements.

Even though the authorities have not reported any cases of infection in prison, the situation in UAE detention facilities still raises concerns about the health and safety of detainees.

The detention conditions in the UAE are increasing the risks of spread of the disease in places of detention. Confined spaces such as prison cells, which remain severely overcrowded, provide an ideal environment for the virus to spread. Detainees are held in cells which lack of hygiene and ventilation, and many are forced to sleep on the floor. These conditions and the absence of proper medical care are factors favouring the spread of contagious diseases.

Furthermore, it is all the more concerning that detainees with chronic diseases are denied a proper treatment for their illnesses. Dr Nasser Bin Ghaith, detained at Al-Razeen prison since August 18, 2015 suffers from hypertension but has been denied medical treatment since his arrest. His health condition has significantly worsened and his latest medical examination showed a cardiomegaly (enlarged heart).

Female prisoner of conscience Amina Al-Abdouli has been suffering from a serious liver disease and other health conditions. However, she has also been denied adequate treatment for her disease and has been in kept in inhuman conditions of detention. Maryam Al-Ballushi, also suffering from a liver disease, has also been detained in similar conditions

Chronic diseases, even with an adequate medication, constitute an important factor of risk. The absence of a proper medical treatment increase their vulnerability to the pandemic’s impact. An infection of an inmate in one of these prisons could have serious consequences and cause an important death toll.

Over the past weeks, many families have travelled to visit their loved ones at Al-Razeen prison but have been denied access to the building. The prison administration has not provided any reason for this denial and has not clearly announced a suspension of the visits due to the epidemic, but visits has been systematically denied for weeks. The only contact detainees have with their families is through phone calls.

The International Centre for Justice and Human Rights (ICJHR) is seriously concerned by this situation and urges the authorities to immediately release all persons detained arbitrarily, particularly those detained beyond their prison terms.

The government must, at the very least, take urgent steps to improve the conditions of detention for inmates and make sure that preventive measures are taken. Reducing overcrowding in prison by releasing arbitrarily detained prisoners, is a way to ensure social distancing is observed in prison.

Alternatively, the Centre calls upon the UAE government to allow UN independent experts and other international bodies to call prisoners of conscience to enquire about their condition.

For more information, please contact us at info@ic4jhr.org.

This post is also available in: arالعربية (Arabic)

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