Leading writers including Margaret Atwood, Elif Shafak and Claire Tomalin have signed an open letter to the king of Bahrain urging him to intervene in the case of a political prisoner being denied the right to read in jail.
Hassan Mushaima, a leader of the political opposition in Bahrain who was part of the country’s Arab spring protests, has faced repeated torture, and humiliating and degrading treatment in prison. A cancer sufferer, Mr Mushaima has been denied access to all but the most basic medical care. In the latest effort to break Mr Mushaima’s spirit, the prison authorities have confiscated all of the former English teacher’s books — more than 100 collected during his seven years in jail.
His son, Ali, who lives in exile in Britain, is on the 36th day of a hunger strike outside the Bahrain embassy in London protesting on behalf of his father.
“In some ways when you are prisoner, your books are not less important than your life-saving medication,” said Ali. “While your medicine physically saves your body, the books you have saves your mind in a place where life seems to stand still
“My father is a researcher and his books where how he spent his days in prison, they gave him purpose. Taking them away from him felt like a new way to suffocate him in his prison.”
The letter follows:
We write to you on behalf of Bahraini activist Hassan Mushaima to ask for your assistance in assuring his fair treatment in jail and in particular the return or replacement of his books. Mr Mushaima is a leader of the political opposition in Bahrain and in 2011 was part of the Arab spring protests – a mass movement that peacefully called for human rights and democratic reforms in the kingdom.
Mr Mushaima, along with other leading human rights defenders and opposition figures – known collectively as the Bahrain 13 – was arrested, tortured and sentenced to life imprisonment, simply for calling for democracy.
Throughout his detention, Mr Mushaima has been subjected to humiliating, inhumane treatment in Jau prison. The torture he has endured has caused such severe problems that he has required surgery four times. Although Mr Mushaima has been allowed access to basic medical care in recent days following a hunger strike – which is still ongoing – by his son Ali Mushaima outside the Bahraini embassy in London, he has been denied access to other basic rights – such as access to reading material.
Over the past seven years, Mr Mushaima has accumulated a collection of more than 100 books in jail. These include books on history, religious teachings, and English dictionaries and grammar books. However, the prison authorities have now confiscated these books and we have since learned that they may have been destroyed. We ask your assistance in calling on prison authorities to return or replace these books – and to ensure Mr Mushaima’s fair treatment in prison.
Access to reading materials is considered to be a basic condition for humane treatment of prisoners worldwide: UN general assembly resolution 45/111 on the Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners proclaims that “All prisoners shall have the right to take part in cultural activities and education aimed at the full development of the human personality.”
Mr Mushaima deserves to be treated with dignity. This is a right that should accorded to all prisoners. We urge you to restore Mr Mushaima’s dignity by returning his books.