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Political prisoners in Bahrain

Over the last decade, Bharani activists, opposition leaders and journalists have faced imprisonment, sometimes after mass trials, for their opposition to the government. Many have been imprisoned for their role in the 2011 protests against the Bahraini monarchy, which were seen as threatening its survival.

There are potentially 1,400 political prisoners in Bahrain, out of a total prison population of 3,200-3,800, according to the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy.

The prison population was reduced in 2020 and 2021, partly in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, those released did not include leading opposition figures and activists—a position criticised by Human Rights Watch.

Concerns have been raised regarding prison conditions, particularly access to medical treatment, overcrowding and physical abuse. Some political prisoners have also died after contracting Covid-19. Medical negligence on the part of the authorities has been alleged by NGOs such as the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy and Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain, something the authorities deny.

In 2012, the Bahraini authorities established an Ombudsman to investigate allegations of mistreatment. From 2018 to 2019, 289 complaints were submitted to it.

In April 2021, the UN Office of the High Commissioner raised concerns about the use of force by police in response to protests about the lack of medical treatment in Jau prison.

Leading activists remain imprisoned

In the UK Parliament, particular concerns have been raised about the imprisonment of Hassan Mushaima, one of the leaders of anti-government protests in 2011, and Dr Abduljalil al-Singace, an activist also involved in the 2011 protests.

Hassan Mushaima was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2011. In September 2021, he rejected a conditional royal pardon to release him from prison, stating he would have to accept continuing restrictions on his freedom.His son, Ali Mushaima, conducted a hunger strike outside the Bahraini embassy in London in December 2021.

Concerns have been raised for the health of Abduljalil al-Singace, a blogger also jailed in 2011. He has undertaken a hunger strike since July 2021, in protest of alleged harassment by prison guards.

On both cases, the UK Government has raised concerns with the Bahraini Government and encouraged the individuals to raise issues with local oversight bodies.

Bahrain is a UK priority country for human rights.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has identified 31 countries where it is particularly concerned about human rights. These priority countries include Bahrain.

In its latest human rights report, covering 2020, the UK Government said that the Bahraini Government had “responded progressively” to the implications of the pandemic on the human rights of prisoners, but allegations of torture, unsafe convictions and concerns for the rights and treatment of detainees remained.

Through its Gulf Strategy Fund, the UK seeks to strengthen ties with the Gulf and support human rights reforms. Work in Bahrain includes police reform and strengthening oversight bodies.

The APPG on Democracy and Human Rights in the Gulf has called for the Gulf Strategy Fund to be suspended (opens pdf). It has criticised Bahraini oversight bodies funded by the UK, arguing that they are “discredited” and fail to properly investigate complaints. The Government has defended the fund and its work.

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