By Lisa Barrington DUBAI (Reuters) – Bahrain has conditionally released 30 prisoners under new rules allowing electronic monitoring and home detention instead, the government and activists said on Wednesday. Almost all those freed are considered political detainees by rights groups. The Gulf state has imprisoned thousands of protesters, journalists and activists – some in mass […]
Bahrain releases some political prisoners under new law
By Lisa Barrington
DUBAI (Reuters) – Bahrain has conditionally released 30 prisoners under new rules allowing electronic monitoring and home detention instead, the government and activists said on Wednesday. Almost all those freed are considered political detainees by rights groups.
The Gulf state has imprisoned thousands of protesters, journalists and activists – some in mass trials – since an anti-government uprising in 2011. It says it prosecutes those who commit crimes in accordance with international law, and rejects criticism from the United Nations and others over the conduct of trials and detention conditions.
Under a 2017 “alternative sentences” law prisoners who had served at least half their sentence in jail were allowed to complete it outside via measures including community service, rehabilitation courses and electronic surveillance.
Last week, the king amended the law to allow to allow a switch to non-custodial punishments at any point in a sentence.
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, a Bahraini activist in exile who heads the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), said 27 of those released this week were political prisoners, and many had been detained when they were juveniles.
“However, they will continue to face severe restrictions on their liberty and these rare releases remain overshadowed by the continued incarceration of hundreds of political prisoners in Bahrain,” said Alwadaei. He called on the government to unconditionally release all political detainees.
One of those released on Sunday night was Kameel Juma Hasan, who was arrested at age 14 and sentenced to 28 years in 2019. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) in May said it considered him to have been arbitrarily detained.
Documents seen by Reuters show some release offer conditions including devices to monitor movements and bans on speaking to the press, using social media or any political activities.
Hassan Mushaima, who was arrested in 2011 and jailed for life for anti-government protests, declined a conditional release offer this week, his son Ali Mushaima told Reuters.
Several high-profile government critics remain in prison, including Abduljalil al-Singace who has been on hunger strike for more than 60 days.
When asked about Mushaima and Singace, the government told Reuters: “Everyone’s request (for alternative sentencing) is considered and any request goes through the procedures for review.”
Leading human rights activist Nabeel Rajab was released under the alternative sentence law in June 2020.
BIRD estimates that there are over 1,400 political prisoners out of a total prison population in Bahrain of around 3200-3800.
Bahrain has said 3,511 people since 2017 had benefited from the alternative sentencing law and more requests for release were being studied. It is part of what it calls ongoing reform of the criminal justice system that includes an ombudsman to independently investigate allegations of mistreatment.
On Wednesday the public prosecution said it was considering alternative sentences for six children, without elaborating.
Earlier this year prisoners and security forces clashed inside Jau prison, and families protested outside, after COVID-19 outbreaks.
Since 2011, Bahrain has seen sporadic clashes between protesters and security forces, who have been targeted by bomb attacks. Reconciliation talks post-2011 failed to defuse political tensions and officials later dissolved the main opposition parties and banned their members from elections.
(Reporting by Lisa Barrington; editing by Philippa Fletcher)