Bahrain’s Alternative Penal Code, an alternative form of slavery

“The alternative punishment system was not a solution yesterday, let alone today. Likewise, the open prison system is not the solution. The solution is to free all prisoners of conscience.”

A small group of prisoners of conscience, who served at least half their arbitrary sentences, has been transferred to Manama’s open prisons under the so-called ‘alternative penal code,’ which allows courts to replace prison sentences with “community service” and “rehabilitation courses” for selected prisoners who “do not pose any public security risk” under minimal supervision.

A constrained “freedom”

Manama has been widely accused of deploying the laws and disregarding international norms by applying the scheme with select inmates who have not engaged in criminal activity and ought to be unconditionally freed.

In Manama, Khaled bin Rashed Al-Khalifa, a ruling-family member tasked with enforcing the aforementioned law, met and discussed “areas of cooperation” with Rebecca Bolton, who runs one of the UK’s open prisons. The meeting also covered discussions about “training and exchange of expertise” according to local media.

Bahraini rights activists regularly slam London as being part of a public relations strategy to mitigate reputational damage done to the Bahraini monarchy. However, serious violations have been reported that ensured that such meetings have completely backfired.

Breaching int’l norms

Khalil Bu-Haza’a, a Bahraini researcher in law & labour affairs, previously warned against employing prisoners without pay or with low wages. Bu-Haza’a said -on Twitter- that “the employment of convicts in the private sector without pay or with unfair wages is classified, by the International Labor Organization, as a form of forced labor.”

Bahrain’s ruler, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, issued a royal decree naming the so-called “General Directorate of Verdict Enforcement and Alternative Sentencing” part of the Interior Ministry. Ebrahim Sarhan, a Bahraini prominent lawyer, has described the step -on Twitter- as evidence that the alternative sentences law is “not being implemented by a judicial body.”

The directorate recently signed an agreement with Injaz Bahrain, an institution run by the ruler’s daughter-in-law. Since 2011, Manama has spared no possible efforts to persecute its prisoners of conscience. It is promoting this step as an exceptional human rights achievement, however, the reality is utterly different. The step is seen by the opposition as disguised forced labour.

Bahrain is among the signatories to the Forced Labour Convention, which prohibits any form of enforced or compulsory labour. It also affirms that labour should not be manipulated as a means of coercion for holding political opinions critiquing the system, for participating in strikes, or as a means of discrimination.

The never-ending dilemma

Currently, Bahrain is home to some 1,600 political prisoners. Rights advocates have repeatedly noted that Manama’s application of the alternative penal code remains narrow; hundreds – detained on trumped-up charges – have had their requests for early release rejected.

For instance, Manama has ceaselessly rebuffed calls to release Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja under these laws. In a letter shared by his daughter Maryam Al-Khawaja, the prominent rights advocate explained that he is “choosing the lesser of two evils,” but that does not mean he is “waiving the original demand, which is to cancel the judgment and seek reparation for damages.”

So far, Al-Khawaja continues to be denied access to a cardiologist after experiencing heart palpitations and breathing difficulties. In a Twitter post, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called on Manama to provide him “urgent medical care.”

It is noteworthy that several former detainees (released under the so-called Alternative Punishment Law) have experienced a severe burning sensation from the electronic ankle bracelet that authorities use to monitor them.

Activists believe it causes a serious health risk, and fear those freed may be hauled back to prison for refusing to wear it.

A paradox: it is Bahrain, after all

Absurdly, more than 100 detainees in Jau Prison were reportedly slapped with hefty fines (roughly $2650) after being accused of “failing to adhere to protective measures against COVID-19.”

Since the outbreak, international rights groups have blamed Manama for the spread of the infectious pandemic, taking into account the overcrowded detention centers; the poor hygienic environment; and the unyielding medical negligence.

Meanwhile, a growing number of prisoners of conscience’s families have pled for news about the whereabouts of their beloved ones amid reports that more than 100 inmates in Jau Prison’s building 6 have not had any contact with the outside world since March 8th.

In an audio recording shared by activists, prisoner of conscience Muhammad Hassan Al-Raml (61) said he is “a victim of medical negligence with several of his doctor’s appointments canceled since the start of the year.”

In late March, Al-Raml announced he was going on a hunger strike to protest the inhumane treatment and medical negligence.

Unconditional freedom is an alienable right

Hussein Noah, chair of the Monitoring and Documentation Unit at the Bahrain Forum for Human Rights (BFHR), believes that the application of alternative punishments against prisoners of conscience disregards international laws.

Noah stresses that their inherent right is to be immediately freed – without conditions or restrictions- along with granting them reparations, dropping the unfair judicial rulings against them, and holding accountable those involved in infringing their rights.

London-based activist Ali Mushaima has reported that his jailed father (75) – despite his many incurable illnesses – is continuing to endure harassment, denial of appropriate medical treatment, and prolonged isolation.

The ailing opposition leader has been kept in isolation at Kanoo Medical Centre, since July 2021 as punishment for refusing to accept release under the “alternative sentencing law.”

In September 2021, Sheikh Hussein Al-Daihi, Al-Wefaq’s deputy SG posted -on Twitter- photographs of himself alongside Hassan Mushaima and Sheikh Ali Salman.

While commending Mushaima’s “brave” decision, Sheikh Al-Daihi commented, “Their release from prison is an inherent right, and we are proud of them and their stances.”

“The alternative punishment system was not a solution yesterday, let alone today. Likewise, the open prison system is not the solution. The solution is to free all prisoners of conscience,” Bahrain’s highest Shiite religious authority Ayatollah Issa Qassim said in March 2021.

The senior cleric has frequently reiterated his calls for the unconditional release of all political prisoners as “a prelude to serious reform.”

0 thoughts on “Bahrain’s Alternative Penal Code, an alternative form of slavery

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *