Reports reaching ALQST point to a sharp increase in the spread of infectious diseases in Saudi prisons. ALQST has previously published reports and videos on conditions in Saudi Arabia’s severely overcrowded and disease- and crime-ridden prisons. It has also reported on specific cases including deaths in prison from disease or criminal causes. However, the Saudi authorities have not taken any serious steps to tackle these issues, other than PR campaigns to gloss over the state of Saudi prisons.
ALQST has had reports this week from observers on the ground confirming a major outbreak of infectious diseases, notably TB and scabies. A number of prison workers have been infected, including some of those serving meals in Mecca General Prison. Dozens of cases from Mecca General Prison have been placed in quarantine following the discovery of a number of cases of TB. The severe overcrowding at the prison is highly conducive to the spread of disease. Conditions are so bad that inmates share the same bedding, and dozens of prisoners sleep in the corridors and landings between sections.
ALQST has had information that several of the prisoners’ relatives have made strenuous efforts to contact officials, asking them to ensure the safety of inmates and inspect all wings and sections where infection is suspected, but to no avail. The Prisons Directorate set up a committee to carry out an investigation and look into repeated complaints from prisoners’ relatives, but the committee that went to Mecca Prison did not go inside the wings, and instead simply met with prison officials. The Saudi Human Rights Commission did likewise.
We at ALQST call for an emergency committee to be set up to deal with this matter and take the danger seriously. We call on the Saudi authorities to shoulder their responsibilities and not neglect their duties, nor endanger the lives of prison inmates and staff. We urge them to act transparently, and to reveal the truth about this dangerous situation to the inmates and their relatives and society at large. We would like to remind them that media reports from sources that lack independence are worthless. The only credible assessment of the prisons situation must come from neutral, independent parties working transparently and free from pressure from the Saudi authorities. This cannot happen without scrutiny by a genuine civil society able to carry out these tasks.