MANAMA (Dispatches) –
Relatives of death row and life inmates in Bahrain have held a protest along Pope Francis’s motorcade route calling for the freedom of political prisoners in the Persian Gulf Arab state.
It was not clear if the pope saw the placards as his motorcade moved from his residence to a school in Isa Town where he later addressed students and teachers.
A video of Saturday’s protest, which included several women and children, was posted online by the London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) and by Bahrain’s dissolved opposition al-Wefaq group.
Hajer Mansoor, the mother of jailed activist Sayed Nizar al-Wadaei, held a placard reading: “Tolerance does not exist for us here in Bahrain.”
One of the placards read “Tolerance, Coexistence is a practice not just slogan. #Free Hassan Mushaima #Free Political Prisoners #End Sectarianism”.
Hassan Mushaima, an opposition leader, was given a life sentence in 2011 for anti-government protests, led mostly by the Shia Muslim community. The monarchy cracked down on the unrest.
In the video, a policeman can be heard telling the demonstrators, who included a small boy, “If you please, if you have demands, if you have anything, not in this way and not in this manner”.
Bahrain’s security forces have threatened the families of political prisoners with arrest and prevented them from seeing Pope Francis, in an attempt to blackout one of the most controversial topics of human rights in the tiny Persian Gulf state.
The Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society published a video via its twitter account, showing the families of freedom of speech prisoners and victims of torture in Bahraini prisons, as well as those sentenced to death by the Bahraini regime as they were trying to meet Pope Francis on Saturday.
Nevertheless, their attempt was unsuccessful as they were prevented to do so by the police. Activists said the protesters were taken away from the protest site in a police vehicle and later released.
The families of jailed dissidents had appealed to Pope Francis to speak out against human rights abuses perpetrated by the ruling Al Khalifa regime during his trip to the tiny Persian Gulf country.
The appeal was made in a letter written by the families of 12 prisoners sitting on death row, and released by the BIRD last week.
“Our family members remain behind bars and at risk of execution despite the clear injustice of their convictions. Many of them were targeted because they took part in pro-democracy protests during the ‘Arab Spring’,” read the letter.
“During your visit to Bahrain, we hope you can repeat your call to abolish the death penalty and for the sentences of our family members to be commuted.”