9 April 2021 – Family members of several prominent political prisoners have been detained in Bahrain over their participation in peaceful demonstration’s calling for the release of political prisoners, including Mohammed AlDaqqaq and death row inmate Mohammed Ramadhan, amid a crackdown on protests sparked by a severe and ongoing outbreak of coronavirus at Jau Prison, the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) and Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) stated today.
Jafar Ramadhan and Ramadhan Isa were summoned for questioning on 6 April after staging a small protest in al-Dair calling for Mohammed Ramadhan’s release. Despite being temporarily released that day, both men were recalled to Samaheej Police Station in the early hours of 9 April. Jafar attended the station and was arrested on suspicion of three separate cases of illegal gathering.
Jafar maintains that two of these charges relate to protests in a neighbouring village which he did not attend. Despite this, he will be presented before the Public Prosecution tomorrow. Unlicensed gatherings of more than five people are illegal under Bahraini law, in breach of Article 22 of International Convention on Civil and Political Rights. In an apparent warning to protesters, on 9 April the Public Prosecution stated that the maximum sentence for unlicensed gatherings had been raised to 3 years imprisonment and a fine of up to 5000 BD, in light of COVID-19.
Last year, Bahrain’s highest court upheld death sentences against Mohamed Ramadhan and his co-defendant Husain Moosa, despite overwhelming evidence that their convictions were based solely on Husain’s forced confession resulting from torture. An investigation into their torture allegations by Bahrain’s UK-backed human rights oversight bodies was condemned by independent experts from the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) as “critically flawed” and contributed directly to the reimposition of their death sentences.
On 7 April, the Public Prosecutor also ordered the detention of three brothers from Karbabad for holding a ‘sit-in’ calling for the release of their brother, political prisoner Mohammed AlDaqqaq. A family member informed BIRD that Yunes AlDaqqaq (46) was summoned to Exhibition Police Station in Sanabis, where he was asked to call his brothers, Yasser AlDaqqaq (35) and Anwar AlDaqqaq (44), and request they immediately join him for interrogation.
Yasser subsequently informed relatives that he was presented before Bahrain’s Public Prosecutor today on suspicion of illegal gathering, who ordered his detention for a further seven days. Mohammed, who has been serving a lengthy sentence at Jau Prison since 2015. Mohammed, was born with only one kidney and suffers from a range of medical conditions linked to sickle cell anaemia, which required him to undergo a splenectomy.
During his imprisonment, Mohammed was reportedly subjected to torture and has complained of periodic medical negligence, leading to lengthy hospitalisations in 2016 and 2018. His medical conditions place him at heightened risk of coronavirus, an outbreak of which has spread rapidly through Building 21 of the prison in recent weeks. While the government has officially confirmed just three infections, local activists report figures of over 70; BIRD has independently verified at least 28 cases, with new infections reported daily.
Background on protests and government response
The failure to contain the outbreak and authorities’ attempts to conceal its severity have sparked protests across Bahrain, with demonstrations reported in at least 28 towns and villages throughout the country last weekend. BIRD understands that dozens of others have been summoned for questioning between 6 and 7 April regarding the protests, while two further detained individuals were presented before Bahrain’s Public Prosecution on 8 April. They are Ali Muhanna, whose son is a political prisoner at Jau Prison and Sayed Saeed, whose 15-year old son Sayed Hashem was killed by Bahraini police during protests in 2011; both have been temporarily released ahead of a hearing scheduled for the end of the month.
While the Public Prosecution announced on 8 April that 73 inmates would be released on alternative sentences, apparently in response to public concerns about the outbreak at Jau Prison, hundreds of political prisoners remain in detention, including aging leaders of Bahrain’s 2011 pro-democracy uprising like Hassan Mushaima and Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace, both of whom suffer serious medical issues which render them highly vulnerable to COVID-19.
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, commented: “Whenever people in Bahrain peacefully take to the streets to call for the release of beloved family members, they face judicial harassment and intimidation from authorities. Instead of meeting protestors’ legitimate demands, they have once again reacted with repression; Bahrain must not be permitted to run roughshod over their citizens’ right to free assembly.”
Husain Abdulla, Executive Director at Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain, commented: “Bahrain’s allies in Britain and America must make it clear that they will not tolerate Bahrain’s interference in their citizens’ right to protest. Their continued failure to reign in their ally is only emboldening the regime; these political prisoners should be immediately and unconditionally released.”