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Bahrain: Free Imprisoned Rights Defenders and Opposition Activists | Human Rights Watch.

[April 6, 2020 12:00AM EDT] [Available In العربية English]

Extend Releases to Those at Special Risk of COVID-19.


© Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) 

(Beirut) – Amid the global threat posed by COVID-19Bahraini authorities should release human rights defenders, opposition activists, journalists, and all others imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association, a coalition of 19 rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, said today.

On March 17, 2020, Bahrain completed the release of 1,486 prisoners, 901 of whom received royal pardons on “humanitarian grounds.” The remaining 585 were given non-custodial sentences. While this is a positive step, the releases so far have excluded opposition leaders, activists, journalists, and human rights defenders – many of whom are older and/or suffer from underlying medical conditions. Such prisoners are at high risk of serious illness if they contract COVID-19, and thus ought to be prioritized for release.

“Bahrain’s significant release of prisoners is certainly a welcome relief as concerns around the spread of COVID-19 continue to rise. Authorities must now speedily release those who never should have been in jail in the first place, namely all prisoners of conscience who remain detained solely for exercising their right to peaceful expression”, said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East director of research. “We also urge the authorities to step up measures to ensure full respect for the human rights of all those deprived of their liberty.”

Opposition leaders imprisoned for their roles in the 2011 protest movement remain behind bars. These include Hassan Mushaima, the head of the unlicensed opposition group Al-Haq; Abdulwahab Hussain, an opposition leader; Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, a prominent human rights defender; and Dr Abdel-Jalil al-Singace, the spokesman for Al-Haq.

Other prominent opposition figures, including Sheikh Ali Salman, secretary general of the dissolved Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society (Al-Wefaq), also remain imprisoned. Sayed Nizar Alwadaei, who was deemed arbitrarily detained by the United Nations in “reprisal” for the activism of his brother-in-law, the exiled activist Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, and human rights defenders Nabeel Rajab and Naji Fateel have not been released either. Amnesty International considers them to be prisoners of conscience who should be released immediately and unconditionally.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) has documented that a total of 394 detainees of the 1,486 released were imprisoned on political charges. According to Salam for Democracy and Human Rights, another Bahraini nongovernmental group, 57 of the 901 prisoners who received a royal pardon were imprisoned for their political activities, while the rest were given non-custodial sentences. Since the Bahraini government has not made available any information on the charges for which those ordered released had been convicted, the exact figures cannot be verified. However, it is clear that people imprisoned for nonviolent political activity are in the minority of those released.

Scores of prisoners convicted following unfair trials under Bahrain’s overly broad counterterrorism law have been overlooked and denied early release or alternative penalties, even though other inmates serving considerably longer sentences were freed. This includes Zakiya Al Barboori and Ali Al Hajee, according to the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD).

Conditions in Bahrain’s overcrowded prisons compound the risk of COVID-19 spreading. The lack of adequate sanitation led to a scabies outbreak in Jau Prison – Bahrain’s largest prison – and the Dry Dock Detention Center in December 2019 and January 2020. Almost half of the Dry Dock Detention Center’s prison population was infected. In 2016, a governmental Prisoners and Detainees Rights Commission found buildings at Jau Prison to suffer from “bad hygiene,” “insect infestation,” and “broken toilets.”

Furthermore, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the UN have expressed their concern over the authorities’ persistent failure to provide adequate medical care in Bahrain’s prisons. This has endangered the health of some unjustly imprisoned persons with chronic medical conditions, such as Hassan Mushaima and Dr Abdel-Jalil al-Singace, who may now be at heightened risk of contracting COVID-19.

Hassan Mushaima, 72, has diabetes, gout, heart and prostate problems, and is also in remission for cancer. Prison authorities have routinely failed to take him to appointments due to his refusal to submit to wearing humiliating shackles during transfers to his appointments. International human rights mechanisms have said that the use of restraints on elderly or infirm prisoners who do not pose an escape risk can constitute ill-treatment.

Dr Abdel-Jalil al-Singace, 57, has post-polio syndrome and uses a wheelchair. Prison authorities have also refused to transport him to his medical appointments due to his refusal to wear shackles.

“As the world faces the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis, it is more important than ever that the international community work together to contain its spread and ensure that the health and rights of the vulnerable are protected,” said Husain Abdullah, executive director at Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB). “Bahrain’s allies, in particular the United Kingdom and United States, should explicitly call on Bahrain to secure the release of all those solely imprisoned for their peaceful opposition to the government.”

States have an obligation to ensure medical care for all those in their custody at least equivalent to that available to the general population and must not deny or limit detainees equal access to preventive, curative, or palliative health care. Given that conditions in detention centers pose a heightened public health risk to the spread of COVID-19, and the persistent failure to provide an adequate level of care to those in their custody, there are grave concerns about whether prison authorities could effectively control the spread of COVID-19 and care for prisoners if there is an outbreak inside Bahrain’s prisons.

The Bahraini authorities should seize the opportunity to immediately and unconditionally release everyone imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising their rights to free expression, including Hassan Mushaima, Dr Abdel-Jalil al-Singace, Abdulahdi Al-Khawaja, Abdulwahab Hussain, Nabeel Rajab, Naji Fateel, and Sheikh Ali Salman. The convictions of those imprisoned following unfair trials – including Sayed Nizar Alwadaei – should be quashed, or at the very least they should be released pending fair retrial. 

The risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic to those in detention should be a strong factor weighing toward the reduction of the prison population through the release of pretrial detainees, particularly given the poor, unsanitary conditions in Bahrain’s prisons and the inadequate provision of medical care. In addition, prisoners who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19, such as those with underlying medical conditions and the elderly, should be considered for early release, parole, or alternative non-custodial measures as a means to further reduce the prison population and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In any event, the authorities should ensure that anyone who remains in custody has access to disease prevention and treatment services, including ensuring physical distancing of prisoners at all times, including in housing, eating, and social areas. Prison authorities should screen all guards to prevent the introduction of COVID-19 into prisons, provide appropriate information on hygiene and supplies, and ensure that all areas accessible to prisoners, prison staff, and visitors are disinfected regularly. They should develop plans for housing people exposed to or infected with the virus in quarantine or isolation and ensure that necessary medical care is available.

“Bahrain’s first wave of prison releases was positive, but insufficient,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should further reduce the prison population by releasing those who are imprisoned solely for their political beliefs or for exercising their right to free speech and peaceful assembly. Meanwhile, the authorities should ramp up efforts to ensure that the remaining prison population has access to the medical care, is protected from transmission, and is provided the information that they need to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Signed by:

Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Amnesty International
Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR)
Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
English PEN
European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
Global Legal Action Network (GLAN)
Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GC4HR)
Human Rights First (HRF)
Human Rights Watch (HRW)
Index on Censorship
International Service For Human Rights (ISHR)
PEN America
PEN International

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WHO EMRO Weekly Epidemiological Monitor: Volume 13, Issue no 13; 29 March 2020 | ReliefWeb.

[Sources: WHO] [Posted: 5 Apr 2020] [Originally Published: 29 Mar 2020] [Origin: View original]

Current major event.

Ending Polio from EMR- A global concern.

Globally, Poliomyelitis has been eradicated except two countries Pakistan and Afghanistan of Eastern Mediterranean Region of WHO.
Recent upsurge in polio cases has been a global concern. From 2019 onwards until Week 13, 2020 178 WPV1 cases are reported from Pakistan; a highest number in past five years (See table).

Editorial note.

“Polio is known to be a highly infectious crippling disease caused by poliovirus wild types 1-3. With wild type 2 eradicated globally in 1999, and wild type 3 not detected since 2012, the current outbreak is suspected to be due to wild type 1 (WPV1). The majority of polio cases are mild or asymptomatic, with only a small proportion leading to potentially fatal Acute Flaccid Paralysis (AFP), making polio detection by symptoms alone difficult. The initial symptoms include fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness in the neck, and pain the limbs. Children under five are most likely to contact the virus; transmitted predominantly through the feco-oral route - though some droplet transmission is possible - making adequate WASH practices vital for disease control. The live attenuated oral polio vaccine (OPV) is highly effective in preventing polio transmission and has resulted into 99% worldwide decrease in polio cases. A high level of vaccination coverage (90%) should be aimed for, to interrupt polio transmission and prevent outbreak escalation.

All 5 WHO regions have eradicated Poliomyelitis while two countries of the Eastern Mediterranean Region; Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only remaining polio-endemic countries. As of Week 13, 2020, a total of 32 cases of wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1) have been reported from Pakistan and 2 from Afghanistan. The rise of polio cases in Pakistan from late 2018 onwards have made it a global concern and ending wild polio transmission in the region has become a distant dream.

Additionally, in Pakistan, 72 WPV1 positive environmental samples including 4 combined (WPV1 and cVDPV2) with most recent positive sample collected on 25 February 2020 and in Afghanistan only 4 WPV1 positive environmental samples including 1 combined (WPV1 and cVDPV2). This widespread polio virus samples in the environment highly suggests the presence of virus and its further transmission at any time.

World Health Organization, Eastern Mediterranean Region has been providing technical support to the two polio endemic countries in the efforts to eradicate crippling disease once and for all. As immunization is the only prevention for polio, WHO has helped Pakistan to conduct a 5-day nationwide campaign for vaccination in January 2020 that vaccinated 18.3 million children. Similarly, in Afghanistan, a subnational vaccination round has been completed which targeted about 5.9 million children in selected high risk and infected areas of the country. Additionally, both countries are also increasing the efforts in responding the surge in number of cases and have revised National Emergency Action Plan. However, despite all these efforts, the number of cases are continuously rising.

In depth analysis of this predicament shows that there are many barriers in successful implementation of high quality vaccination campaigns which include the ongoing conflict in the endemic countries, community resistance, population movement, banning of immunization activities by militants and clerics, and the growing attacks on polio workers in the most affected parts of the countries.

The most important thing right now are the concerted efforts with the governments to eradicate WPV transmission in the region by removing key barriers in vaccination campaigns to strengthen routine immunization and focus on high risk areas to ensure every last child is vaccinated. Surveillance, mop-up campaigns and care for post-polio paralysis are also crucial which need to be scaled up to eradicated the virus completely.

Download report (PDF | 357.82 KB)

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USA: Bath woman remembers quarantining to avoid polio | Portland Press Herald.

[5th April 2020]

In the summer of 1944, 12-year-old Betsy Jones’ father, a doctor, didn’t let her leave their property because he feared she would contract polio. Now 87-years-old, she finds herself in a hauntingly familiar position. Photo courtesy of Betsy Jones

Kathleen O'Brien writes:

BATH — In the summer of 1944, 12-year-old Betsy Jones spent her days standing on the side of the road talking to her cousin across the street as the North Carolina sun beat down. She wasn’t allowed to step beyond the curb.

Her father, a doctor, wouldn’t let Jones leave their property that summer because he feared she might contract polio, a highly contagious disease children were especially susceptible to, which was spreading across North Carolina at the time.

Jones finds herself in a hauntingly familiar situation today under the threat of coronavirus.

Now 87, Jones, who lives at the Plant Memorial Home in Bath, still keeps in touch with her loved ones from a safe distance, but she has traded movie magazines for knitting while she stays home to keep herself safe from coronavirus, which has spread across the state in recent weeks.

“As a kid, I didn’t understand the gravity of the polio epidemic,” said Jones. “When I was 12 years old, I had never seen a picture of the iron lung, but my father was a doctor and very protective of me. He saw what could happen to me.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, polio, short for poliovirus, spreads from person to person through contact with the feces or droplets from a sneeze or cough of an infected person.

The CDC estimates 72% of infected people will not show symptoms and about one in four people with polio will have flu-like symptoms for two to five days. However, one out of 25 people will develop meningitis, and one out of 200 infected people suffer paralysis, which could lead to permanent disability or death. Between two and 10 out of 100 people who developed paralysis from polio died.

The first major documented polio outbreak in the United States came in 1894 in Vermont. Eighteen deaths and 132 cases of permanent paralysis were reported. In 1916, New York City saw an outbreak with more than 27,000 cases and 6,000 deaths. In the summer of 1944, it was North Carolina’s turn to wage war on the virus.

To pass the time that summer Jones sent postcards to her favorite movie stars, some of whom replied with signed posters.

“I even had a Betty Grable poster,” Jones recalled. “I got hooked on those movie magazines because they brightened my day. … I think my cousin read ‘War and Peace.’”

Jones remembers a nationwide sigh of relief when the polio vaccination was developed and made widely available in 1955. By then, she had just graduated college and she rushed to get her vaccination.

“People felt safer once the vaccine was found … it was a game changer,” she said.

In the United States, the number of polio cases reported annually declined from more than 20,000 in 1952 to fewer than 100 cases by the mid-1960s, according to the CDC. The last documented transmission of polio in the United States was in 1979.

Coronavirus, also called COVID-19, first surfaced in Wuhan, China in late December 2019 and quickly spread throughout the country. Within a month, the United States had its first reported case. Considered extremely contagious, symptoms of the virus include fever, coughing and shortness of breath according to the World Health Organization.

As of Sunday, 86 Mainers have been hospitalized and 156 have recovered during the course of the outbreak. Ten Mainers died as of the virus as of Sunday, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control. The virus has infected more than 1.2 million around the world, and 66,000 have died.

State health officials continue to encourage Mainers to adhere to social distancing to stop the spread of the virus. A statewide stay-at-home order prohibiting residents from traveling outside their homes for all but “essential personal activities” took effect Thursday.

“Now that I’m older, I understand the ramifications of both polio and coronavirus, and coronavirus is scarier,” said Jones. “People may become complacent about protecting themselves, and that worries me. People don’t understand how invisible the threat is.”

“I think my father would say, ‘You have to protect yourself and your family and staying home is the best thing you can do,’” she added. “Mainers are tough people and most of us have some sense. I know we’re going to get through this.”

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Pakistan: Sindh reports another polio case, taking year’s tally to 13 | DAWN.

[April 05, 2020]

ISLAMABAD: One more polio case was reported from Sindh on Saturday, taking this year’s tally for the province to 13 and that of the country to 37.

According to an official of the National Institute of Health (NIH), the latest case was detected in Union Council Kareem Baksh, Tehsil Thull in District Jacobabad.

“The infected child is a 36-month-old-male and is the son of a labourer,” added the NIH official.

The provincial data for the child-crippling disease for the current year so far shows 18 cases from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 13 from Sindh, five from Balochistan and one from Punjab.

Last year, 146 cases were recorded, a sharp increase from only 12 poliovirus victims in 2018.

Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by the poliovirus mainly affecting children under the age of five. It invades the nervous system and can cause paralysis or even death.

While there is no cure for polio, vaccination is the most effective way to protect children from the virus. Each time a child under the age of five is vaccinated, their protection against the virus is increased.

Repeated immunisations have protected millions of children from polio, allowing almost all countries in the world to become polio-free.

However, Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only two countries in the world where the poliovirus continues to remain in circulation.

Lately, polio outbreaks have been reported in six other Asian countries which include China, Burma, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines.

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