Human Rights Watch is urging the Arab Gulf state of Qatar to release older prisoners and those held for nonviolent offenses in light of a coronavirus outbreak in the country’s central prison.
The rights group interviewed six non-Qatari detainees who said several prisoners were suspected of contracting COVID-19.
Qatar’s communication office responded to the Human Rights Watch report on Tuesday, confirming 12 prisoners had the virus in the Central Prison.
The prisoners told the rights group that authorities isolated the block where the outbreak occurred, but not before transferring some detainees to other overcrowded and unsanitary sections of the prison. They said their block has eight bathrooms for 150 prisoners, and people are sleeping on the floor with no ability to socially distance.
The government said the 12 people who tested positive for COVID-19 were treated at a medical facility on site, with two transferred out for additional care before being sent back to prison once fully recovered.
Qatar said inmates have received gloves and masks and undergo regular health checkups. In April, Qatar’s ruler pardoned more than 500 inmates to reduce the number of people imprisoned amid the pandemic.
Qatar has nearly 34,000 confirmed cases of the virus, including 15 deaths.