A political prisoner serving a life sentence in Bahrain has died after contracting COVID-19, the interior ministry and activists said on Wednesday, as the Gulf state fights a surge in infections.
Bahrain has come under pressure from human rights organisations over prison conditions including overcrowding, poor sanitation and lack of medical care.
Since the March outbreak of the disease in Bahrain’s main prison Jau, 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 prisoners protested against conditions.
The interior ministry on Wednesday said Husain Barakat, 48, who had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in March, had died after being infected with the virus.
He had been taken from prison to Salmaniya Hospital on May 29, it said. Barakat’s family said he was placed on a ventilator in an ICU unit.
Britain-based human rights group the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) said Barakat was a political prisoner being held in Jau.
Barakat was sentenced in 2018, along with 53 other individuals, to life in prison in a mass trial of 138 defendants accused by authorities of belonging to a “terror” cell, BIRD said.
He was also stripped of his citizenship, which was later restored by royal decree, BIRD said.
His son was also arrested at the age of 16, and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
The interior ministry said Barakat had received regular medical attention and phone calls while in prison.
Bahraini human rights activist Maryam Khawaja, whose own father is imprisoned in Jau, said Barakat told his wife during his last phone call that he could not breathe and was “going to die”.
That’s the prison my father is in https://t.co/H8KHlLF2L7
— Maryam Alkhawaja (@MARYAMALKHAWAJA) June 9, 2021
The Euro-Mediterranean Monitor in the Gulf has called for an immediate, independent investigation into the incident.
“Since the outbreak of the coronavirus inside Bahrain prisons, and despite calls for the authorities to undertake more serious efforts to stop the spread of the virus among the detainees, healthcare was not provided for the detainees, preventive measures inside prisons were not implemented, and authorities continued the policy of deliberate medical neglect,” the monitor said on Twitter.
منذ تفشي فيروس #كورونا داخل السجون في #البحرين، وبالرغم من كل الدعوات للسلطات لبذل جهود أكثر جدية لوقف تفشي الفيروس بين المعتقلين، لم تعمل السلطات على توفير الرعاية الصحية للمعتقلين، ولم تطبق إجراءات الوقاية داخل السجون على النحو المطلوب، واستمرت في سياسية الإهمال الطبي المتعمد.
— Euro Med Monitor in Gulf (@euromedgulf) June 9, 2021
Dissolved Bahraini opposition group al-Wefaq has called for the release of prisoners of conscience since the start of the pandemic.
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.