Bahrain political prisoner dies of Covid-19, activists say

DUBAI (REUTERS) – A political prisoner serving a life sentence in Bahrain has died after contracting Covid-19, activists and an opposition group said on Wednesday (June 9), as the tiny Gulf state fights a surge in infections.

Western-allied Bahrain has come under pressure from human rights organisations over prison conditions including overcrowding, poor sanitation and lack of medical care.

Since an outbreak of the disease in Jau, Bahrain’s main prison, in March, families have been holding small protests demanding the release of political prisoners and better conditions. There was a violent confrontation between guards and prisoners in April after detainees protested against conditions.

Dissolved Bahraini opposition group al-Wefaq, which has called for the release of prisoners of conscience since the start of the pandemic, said Husain Barakat had died on Wednesday, having been admitted to intensive care after contracting Covid-19.

Barakat was sentenced in 2018, along with another 53 individuals, to life in prison in a mass trial of 138 defendants accused by authorities of belonging to a terror cell.

Britain-based human rights group the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) said Barakat, 48, was a political prisoner being held in Jau.

He was also stripped of his citizenship, which was later restored by royal decree, BIRD said. Bahrain’s government communications office did not respond to a request for comment.

Bahrain has freed some prisoners considered at risk, such as pregnant women, in response to the pandemic.

New daily Covid-19 cases surged to record highs in mid- to late-May, reaching more than 3,000 new cases a day, having stayed below 200 a day at the end of last year. Bahrain on Tuesday said 1,279 new cases had been recorded, with 18 deaths.

Bahrain’s government, which denies carrying out torture in prisons, has said it offered vaccinations to all prisoners and that appropriate measures were taken to deal with Covid-19 outbreaks.