LONDON: A COVID-19 outbreak has swept through Qatar’s main prison prompting calls for urgent measures to protect inmates and staff.
Human Rights Watch said Monday that crowded and unsanitary conditions at Doha central prison were exacerbating the situation.
The group urged Qatar to reduce prison populations and ensure prisoners have access to adequate medical care along with masks, sanitizers, and gloves.
“Qatari authorities should move quickly to avoid wider spread of coronavirus that risks infecting prisoners, prison staff, and Doha residents,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Qatar can start by releasing vulnerable prisoners such as older people and those held for low-level or nonviolent offenses and by ensuring that the remaining prisoners have adequate access to medical care.”
Qatar has already come under fire during the pandemic for an outbreak that swept through a district housing low income migrant workers.
Now it is inside the country’s main prison where the authorities are neglecting to tackle the virus.
Six foreign prisoners described conditions to Human Rights Watch after several inmates contracted the virus.
Staff isolated the block containing the infected prisoners but only after transferring some detainees to other overcrowded parts of the facility.
The prisoners said their access to medical care was restricted leaving older and less healthy inmates vulnerable to the outbreak.
Guards said on May 2 that five prisoners had been infected. “Since then more prisoners, possibly many who are infected, have come to our block,” one prisoner said. “We have beds for 96 people, and now we have around 150 prisoners in this block.”
Another guard said later that 47 people were diagnosed with coronavirus.
The prisoners told Human Rights Watch that their block only had eight bathrooms for the 150 prisoners
“People are sleeping on the floor, in the [prison] mosque, in the library; and everyone is scared of each other, we don’t know who could infect us,” the prisoner said. “At a time when we should be isolated from each other, we are being kept like animals in a shed.”
Almost 34,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Qatar, a country of just 2.75 million population. The government claims just 15 people have died from the virus.
On Sunday, Qatar introduced the threat of up to three years in prison for people who failed to wear face masks in public.