Bahrain’s political prisoners at high coronvirus risk in overcrowded cells

Reports that Bahrain is witnessing straight days of increased infections with the highly contagious novel coronavirus have concerned international organizations over the inaction of the ruling Al Khalifah regime to take proper measures.

The Ministry of Health reported on Friday 40 new coronavirus cases. Out of those cases, two were migrant workers and 10 were people who encountered previously infected individuals.

The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Bahrain has reached 1,744, while the death toll stands at seven, according to the latest running count by

Bahrain’s political prisoners at high coronvirus risk in overcrowded cells

This came as Bahrain has been bitterly criticized by a number of human rights organizations over prison conditions, including overcrowding, poor sanitation and lack of medical care.

Even though the Manama regime has freed some 1,000 prisoners in an alleged response to the epidemic but actually under pressure from the global public opinion, what has caused international despair is that only around 6 percent of those freed included political dissidents.

Others were mostly prisoners being kept behind bars for crimes related to burglary, homicide and drug smuggling.

Earlier this month, rights groups, including Amnesty International, jointly urged Bahraini officials to set free those who “peacefully exercised their rights to freedom of expression,” especially elderly prisoners or those with existing health conditions.

“The authorities don’t like to be seen to bend to political pressure,” Marc Owen Jones of the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter said then.

Last week, Reuters news agency shed light on the situation of jailed Bahraini activist Abdullah Habeeb Swar, who developed a days-long bad cough, causing great anguish among his 14 cell mates that he might have contracted coronavirus and would spread it through their overcrowded wing.

They share a cell designed to accommodate eight detainees in one of the three wings in Manama’s Jau Prison, which houses political leaders, human rights defenders, and other prisoners of conscience.

“You can imagine how scared they were,” Swar told Reuters by telephone, adding he was not seen by a doctor.

Swar was detained in 2019 after six years in hiding and serving a 40-year term.

Bahraini social activists demand release of prisoners amid COVID-19

Moreover, a group of Bahraini social media activists have called on the international community and Muslim nations under an Arabic hashtag meaning “Release Bahraini Prisoners” to pressure the Bahraini regime to free imprisoned anti-regime activists.

The activists said they will flood the Internet with their posts at 9 p.m. Manama time (1800 GMT) on Saturday.

On April 14, Bahrain’s most prominent Shia cleric Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim reiterated his earlier call for the release of prisoners amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, stating that the Al Khalifah regime bears full responsibility for the lives of the inmates in case it fails to take the decision immediately.

“There is no excuse after the mass coronavirus outbreak among workers. Tomorrow, remorse will be of no benefit as what can be fixed now may not be remedied then,” Sheikh Qassim said in a statement.

“The most precious things for people worldwide are their lives and their dignity. The lives of prisoners, whose number stands at thousands, are seriously under threat. No wise person would hesitate to take the initiative and release them,” he added.

67 Arab, intl. human rights organizations demand Bahraini inmates release

Separately, a total of 67 Arab and international human rights organizations have called on the Bahraini authorities to respond to the call of the High Commissioner for Human Rights with regard to the release of prisoners of conscience.

“Prisons and places of detention are the most vulnerable to the infectious diseases, and their conditions do not allow for physical separation. It is impossible for overcrowded prisons to implement the recommendations and guidelines of the World Health Organization to confront this pandemic,” they said in a joint statement released on Saturday.

They added, “Bahrain prisons suffer from overcrowding according to official reports. There are numerous records that security authorities deprive treatment as one of the means of torture, which has resulted in reducing the level of healthcare in prisons to the lowest. This will lead to a catastrophe that would affect prisoners if they contract COVID-19,” they highlighted.

On March 25, 2020, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called on world states to take urgent actions as part of comprehensive efforts to contain the outbreak of the new coronavirus, stating that political prisoners should be among the first released in pandemic response.

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