Mabahith prison focuses on family reunification
Mabahith prison focuses on family reunification
I admit I had a number of preconceived ideas about the Mabahith (Arabic for intelligence) prison holding inmates linked to Al-Qaeda. Tarafiah is one of the five Mabahith prisons in the Kingdom. I imagined them to be dark, underground, far removed from urban areas, with strict security maintained by both the army and police. I was also aware of rumors about cases of abuse and torture of prisoners.
These preconceptions prompted me to write to the Ministry of Interior to arrange a visit to a facility. To my surprise, I received a response the following day and was told I could decide on the time and date for a visit.
It took about three hours to drive from Hail to Buraidah. I found the premises relatively close to the city, 5 km off the western circular road of Buraidah, close to the cement plant.
When I arrived at the main gate, a jeep approached and a staff member asked for my identity card. After I’d explained the nature of my job, and the aim of my visit, they welcomed me, and showed me where to go.
I was astonished to see the green gardens with flowers and roses planted in the area leading to the main building. Brig. Saleh Aljuwair, the prison director, and his assistant, Lt. Turki Al-Jadani, were waiting for me with other officers.
My visit, an open tour actually, started at the reception hall of the prisoners. The hall is separated into two sections, one for men and the other fully staffed with women and for the reception of women only. The two sections are air-conditioned and completely visitor-friendly.
When the prisoner arrives, he sits with his family members in a room furnished with regular chairs and mattresses on the ground for sitting, in line with Saudi tradition. The prisoner can speak freely with his family face to face without a glass barrier. Prince Muhammad bin Naif, interior minister, had ordered the glass barrier removed.
Mabahith prisons allow conjugal visits. There are 27 rooms for such visits furnished like hotel rooms and provided with beverages and food. There are also books on marriage and how to overcome family issues.
Our next stop was the desalination plant, where 350 cubic meters of water is provided to all sections of the prison from a well 460 meters deep. The water is used for daily needs, irrigation of plants and flowers, and other uses.
From there we visited the Central Security Hospital where we met Muhammad Al-Qwaifel, head of the hospital. He said an expansion of the facility was under way. There are 35 doctors, 57 nurses, 27 employees in the pharmacy, radiology and physical therapy sections, and 68 working in administration.
Al-Qwaifel explained how the hospital treats inmates. If an inmate is hospitalized, he undergoes various tests and his case is followed up for six months. He explained that all preventive measures are provided by the hospital, such as vaccines for numerous types of common infections and diseases.
Outpatients clinic are equipped with all the necessary medical equipment. We also toured the operating theater where 256 procedures have been performed. Drugs are administered by the staff of the pharmacy in accordance with specified prescriptions issued by a doctor.
The emergency area is located in the center of the hospital. Golf carts are available for transporting patients in an emergency.
The most important part of my visit was to the cells of the inmates. I was briefed on the solitary confinement and collective cells. Each collective cell houses four prisoners but can accommodate up to eight. The cells are equipped with the necessary furniture and television sets.
The Prince Muhammad bin Naif Center for Counseling and Care, our next stop, provides guidance and advice to prisoners, said Khaled Al-Mutrafi, supervisor of the center.
Referring to the programs offered by the center, he said there were eight Islamic legal texts provided for prisoners who believe in an ideology that deviates from Shariah, mostly material on Qur’anic verses and Hadith.
I also met a number of prisoners and was told about their needs and problems. I sat alone with them, without any prison officials, and we were able to speak freely.
One senior prisoner from Skaka said: “We have all we need here, my only hope is to see my wife and children. I haven’t seen them now for three years because it’s so hard to travel from Skaka to Riyadh.” He added that he asked his wife not to visit him for this reason. “I’ve resumed my higher education here in prison,” he said, stressing that the administration provides him with all textbooks and other references needed for his study.
I asked him if his wife encountered any harassment or checking by male members of the prison staff, as rumored on social networking sites. He rejected this. “Our only problem here is that we have a strong desire for our legal proceedings to end quickly so we can get back to our normal lives.”
Another young prisoner asked for the director of the prison to be present while he spoke to me. “This man here is our big brother, everything that we ask, as long as it doesn’t violate regulations, he provides us without delay,” he said. “We are in constant communication with our parents and family members, nothing is bothering us inside, only the freedom to go back to our normal life outside.”
I asked to meet one of the preachers of the deviant ideology, but he refused to meet anyone from the media, despite the director’s efforts to persuade him to talk to me.
I was later invited to visit the garden and sit with young prisoners. The garden is 90 sq meters, planted with flowers and vegetation. It includes two tables and chairs where prisoners can listen to lectures and guidance from specialists in the field.
Then I was asked to visit their special exhibition, where they display their talent. It is a section dedicated to young prisoners with good reputations inside the prison. They responded positively to guidance programs and are talented in painting and sculpture.
Some paintings feature Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah. Other works on display included models of the building of the Interior Ministry, and a creation featuring some items from the daily life of people in the northern regions of the Kingdom.
The prison administration allocated a special office for both the National Society for Human Rights and the Saudi Association for Human Rights. The two societies are involved with all the affairs of the prisoners. I was briefed on their work with the prisoners, and the efforts made to solve all their problems.
The visit lasted about six hours, during which I was briefed on the statistics concerning prisons and prisoners.
The five Mabahith prisons accommodate 2,772 prisoners, with 551 foreigners of 41 nationalities. There are 247 people still being questioned, 530 people having charges formulated against them by the prosecution, 1,590 in the process of proceedings, 405 with rulings issued against them, of whom 245 face final rulings. A total of 3,076 people have been released.
Tarafiah Prison has 301 Saudi inmates and 90 inmates of other nationalities.
There were 12,993 conjugal visits last year. The government has given over SR 224 million in subsidies to those who have been released and others who returned from Guantanamo Bay.
The Ministry of Interior also covers the accommodation and travel costs of the family members of prisoners who stay far from the prison or outside the region or province. This includes the cost of air tickets.