Critics of recent terrorism arrests accuse government of trying to silence opposition ahead of October elections.
Human rights groups have urged Bahrain to release a key opposition figure, saying he has been on hunger strike since July 8 over “ill-treatment”.
Sixteen organisations – including Amnesty International and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) – called on Bahraini authorities on Friday to release Abdul Jalil al-Singace, who is serving a life sentence for his involvement in a 2011 uprising.
Al-Singace launched his hunger strike “in response to degrading treatment he was subjected to by a prison officer, to protest the restriction of being permitted to call only five numbers during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and to demand the return of his book, confiscated by prison guards on April 9, 2021, and on which he worked for at least four years”, they said in a joint statement.
They said the book by al-Singace, an academic and blogger, was about linguistic diversity in Bahraini Arabic dialects and had no political content.
“We call for al-Singace’s immediate and unconditional release and for his work to be immediately given to his family,” they added.
The statement also said the 59-year-old suffered from chronic illnesses and had faced “sustained medical negligence”.
According to the statement “recent outbreaks of COVID-19 reported at Jau Prison create an additional threat to al-Singace’s health.” [PDF]
16 leading NGOs call on #Bahrain to release jailed Bahraini academic, blogger & human rights defender Dr Abduljalil #FreeAlSingace, who has been on hunger strike since 8 July 2021 to protest ill-treatment & demand the return of his research.
— BIRD (@BirdBahrain_) July 30, 2021
Al-Singace has lost 10kg during the hunger strike, a family member told Reuters news agency.
“He resorted to a hunger strike as the last means to end the degrading treatment,” the family member said, adding the 59-year-old’s voice had weakened and relatives were concerned about his mental health.
Bahrain’s government, in response to a request for comment from Reuters, said that al-Singace’s documents had been “confiscated during an attempt to smuggle them from prison in breach of the established procedures and rules”.
Al-Singace was being seen daily by doctors and given nutrients with consent, it said, adding that the authorities had advised him to end the hunger strike and await a legal process regarding the manuscript. It said prisoners receive healthcare equivalent to that provided by the public health system outside prison, and there was a “zero-tolerance policy” towards mistreatment.
A government spokesperson told AFP news agency on Friday that: “To date, he is fully conscious, and his internal organs are healthy and stable.”
Al-Singace also staged a 10-month hunger strike in 2015-2016.
Al-Singace was among 13 activists who took part in anti-government protests 10 years ago and were convicted on charges that included “setting up terror groups to topple the regime”.
He was a key member of the Shia opposition Haq movement.
Since the uprising in the Sunni-ruled kingdom that was put down with Saudi military support, Bahrain has outlawed opposition parties and arrested dozens of activists, sparking international criticism.
Bahrain has claimed Iran trained and backed the demonstrators in order to topple the Manama government – an accusation Tehran denies.
The kingdom rejects allegations of human rights violations and denies discriminating against its Shia citizens.