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Rights of a Prisoner - Part 3

Adopted from the book: "The rights of prisoners according to Islamic teachings" by: "Sayyid Muhammad Sadiq al-Shirazi"

Health and Hygiene

The prisoners must be provided with healthy environments from the point of view of space, fresh air, lighting, heating, ventilation, suitable hygienic lavatories, showers, etc. Hot and cold water must be provided according to the time of the year and the prisoners must have access to the showers whenever they wish to use them.

Food and Drink

The prisoner must be provided with food, drink and suitable clothing throughout the year as well as medical attention and medicine as and when required. All of this must be provided in the prisoner's comfort.

Imam Sadiq (A) is reported as saying that when Imam Ali (A) was assassinated by Ibn Moljim, while on his deathbed, Imam Ali (A) said:

"Detain this prisoner, feed him and treat him well while in detention. If I live I shall deal with him; if I want I shall seek (compensation) from him, and if I want I shall forgive him and I shall reconcile with him. But if I die it is up to you. If you decide to kill him do not mutilate him." 83 However, it is clear that Imam Ali (A) wished his followers and next of kin to forgive his killer Ibn Moljim, as the former is quoted in the Nahj_ul_Balaghah: 84

"Until yesterday I was a companion of yours, today I am lesson to you, and tomorrow I shall leave you. If I survive, I shall be responsible for my blood [i.e. whether to prosecute or to forgive the perpetrator], and if I die, death is my destiny. If I forgive, forgiveness is a means of closeness (to Allah), and it (forgiveness) is a good deed for you, therefore forgive (him), Don't you love Allah to forgive you? 85"

There are exceptional circumstances where the prisoner is subjected to harsh treatment in an attempt that this hardship will make him relinquish the rights of others, (which is the outcome in most cases), when he will be released. 86 An example of such cases is the dispute raised by a woman to Imam Ali (A) about her husband. The husband had stopped his sexual activities with her and at the same time refuses to divorce her.

The woman wanted her husband to either resume his sexual life with her or divorce her. It is reported that Imam Ali (A) detained the husband in a shed and fed him on one quarter of his normal diet in order to make him divorce his wife. It is clear that this imposed hardship was to make the husband either resume a normal sexual life with his wife or divorce her, in either case he would be released from detention. 87 In another similar report, unless the husband would resume normal (sexual relationship with is wife), he would be imprisoned in an enclosure made of straw, and his food and drink rationed until he divorces (his wife). 88

Students of the prisoner

If the prisoner was a lecturer, for example, his students should be allowed to meet him regularly so as to attend his lectures, and or discuss and debate issues of concern.

Psychological well-being

If the prisoner suffered from mental disorder, then he must receive appropriate treatment either in prison or in a specialist hospital if deemed necessary. It is necessary to make provision for such facility/environment to help him maintain a healthy state of mind.

Women prisoners

In women prisons, specific accommodation, facilities, and medical care must be provided for women to use, similar to any such facilities outside prison. Similarly if pregnant woman prisoners need medical facilities not available in prison, they must be transferred to maternity hospital to give birth. They must be provided with the care and facilities they need before and after giving birth. Mothers should be allowed to keep their babies and should be provided with the necessary facilities for their babies, and they must have their freedom as if they were outside prison. They should also be allowed to keep in touch with their children outside prison.

Inspector of prisons

There must be an independent inspector of prisons to check the welfare of the prisoners and establish that prisoners are being treated according to the law in all aspects. It is important that the prison inspector is not from the prison management or its affiliation. He must be from different affiliation, for example from an opposition party etc. Any problem or shortcoming must be brought to the attention of the prison authorities and measures recommended to address those problems. If the latter fail to address those issues then they must be raised with higher authorities.

Chastisement of prisoners

The prison management may not punish prisoners. In the event of prisoners committing any offence, then this must be reported to the police and other legal authorities. It is imperative that the police and the prison service are segregated. A prisoner must be treated like any other free person outside prison when an offence is committed.

The prison management may not give any authority to any of the prisoners to punish other prisoners (for their wrongdoings). However, teaching and training programmes may be set up by prisoners to teach fellow prisoners in any field of learning, material or spiritual, morals, economics, politics, sociology, etc.

Offence of prisoner

If a prisoner commits an offence, s/he will go through the same procedures of police investigation, appearing before court of law, etc. as any other person would outside prison. The crimes prisoners commit inside prison carry the same penalty as others who commit outside it. The same law applies to individuals inside the prison as to those outside.

The right to a defence lawyer

The prisoner may ask for a solicitor to defend him, may ask for an interpreter if needed. If the prisoner cannot afford the cost of them, the relevant authorities must pay for these. Absolutely no to torture

The prison management may under no circumstances use inhumane and brutal punishment against the prisoners, even if it is to discipline them. Therefore, they may not hold prisoners in solitary confinement, or in a dark cell, or flood the cell, or tie the prisoner to the wall, or chain them, or any other means of torture.


83. Al-Ja'fariyat, p 108. Qurb al-Asnaad, p 67.

84. Letters, 23. Nahj_ul_Balaghah, (meaning Peak of Eloquence) is a collection of speeches, sermons and letters of Imam Ali (A).

85. The Holy Qur'an, The Light (25): 22.

86. See for example Fiqh al-Ridha, p 248, or 'Awali al-Le'ali, vol. 3, p 395, and Mustadrak el- Wasa'el, vol. 6, p 27.

87. al-Kafi, vol. 6 p 133.

88. Wasa'el al-Shi'a, vol. 22, section 11, p 28775

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