Hundreds of Bahraini citizens took part in protests for the fourth consecutive day on Sunday, April 4, demanding that the government release prisoners in the country’s overcrowded jails in view of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Press TV reported. The protesters condemned the government’s blackout of any news regarding the number of COVID-19 cases among prisoners many of whom have died.
The protests last week included a “Friday of Prisoners’ Rage” on April 2. On that day, demonstrations and rallies were organized in more than 18 districts of the country. The demonstrators chanted slogans against the authoritarian regime of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah. They also denounced the regime’s long-running, systematic crackdown and mistreatment of political detainees, human rights activists, prominent leaders and members of opposition and minority groups. In many of the protests, protesters were also seen holding up photographs of family members currently being detained in jail and of political prisoners and human rights activists currently in illegal and arbitrary detention.
A day earlier, on Thursday, prominent Bahraini Shia cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim raised alarm over the fate of opposition political figures in the country and expressed fear for their lives while they are being held in prison. In a statement reported by the Bahraini Mirror News outlet, he said that, “one of the worst things that the government of Bahrain does is to keep prisoners as leverage for political bargaining, especially now that the coronavirus pandemic is attacking Bahrain’s prisons with full force.” He urged the regime to unconditionally release all prisoners immediately and save them from the grave risk of coronavirus-related deaths.
Internationally too, the issue has been raised. UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Mary Lawlor called for the release of prominent human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja. In a video message posted on her Twitter account, Lawlor said, “he’s serving a life sentence in prison for peacefully defending the rights of others. He’s been given an unfair trial and details of his torture have been corroborated by an independent commission of inquiry.” Several other international organizations, as well as the European Union and United Nations, have also urged the Bahraini regime to release al-Khwaja, besides also advocating for the release of other political prisoners and human rights activists over the years.