Bahrain Mirror (Exclusive): Bahraini activists continue to call for the release of the largest number of political detainees and prisoners of conscience amid the outbreak of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) across the world. They are pushing the authorities to empty Bahraini prisons of political prisoners in light of the worrying situation.
Families of prisoners of conscience and political prisoners have launched several appeals in which they expressed their concern over their loved ones who are languishing behind bars amid these dangerous conditions and crowded with a large number of prisoners, which put their lives in danger. The families are worried since it is not possible in these conditions to practice the necessary social distancing, given the large numbers of inmates held in a single cell, as well as the nature of the atmosphere inside the prisons.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet advised countries in a statement to work quickly to reduce the number of people in detention. "In many countries, detention facilities are overcrowded, in some cases dangerously so," she said, adding that such conditions make physical distancing and self-isolation practically impossible.
As the need to intensify preventive precautions escalates, focusing on the conditions of prisons becomes a priority, as they are one of the most dangerous places in the current health crisis, with more than 3,000 Bahraini political prisoners piled up in an unclean environment, causing skin diseases to a significant number of prisoners, in addition to the unhealthy food lacking nutrients needed to strengthen the prisoners' immunity, let alone the number of sick prisoners who are at a high risk of getting infected in the event that the virus spreads.
In her statement, the high commissioner focused on the necessity to release political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. "Now, more than ever, governments should release every person detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners and others detained simply for expressing critical or dissenting views," she noted. Upon release, she advised, people should be medically screened, with measures taken to ensure they receive care and follow up, if needed.
The Bahraini Interior Ministry issued a decision on March 17 pardoning about 900 inmates "for humanitarian reasons amid the current circumstances". Meanwhile, 585 other prisoners were sentenced to non-custodial prison in rehabilitation and training programs, contrary to UNHCR's directives to focus on political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, as the pardon included only one-third of the political prisoners. The rest of the pardoned inmates were criminal prisoners sentenced in various cases.
Concern increases over what prisoners can be exposed to in an environment threatened to explode at any moment. One infection is enough to spread the virus like wildfire among inmates and security forces. Is the prison administration taking enough precautionary measures to protect everyone? Is it time to empty Bahraini prisons of political prisoners?