MANAMA (Dispatches) – A political prisoner serving a life sentence in Bahrain has died after contracting COVID-19, activists and an opposition group said on Wednesday.
The Interior Ministry on Wednesday said Husain Barakat, 48, died after being infected with the virus.
Prison authorities had denied him temporary medical leave and had not even informed his family about his health condition.
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 another 53 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.
Western-allied Bahrain has come under pressure from human rights organizations over prison conditions including overcrowding, poor sanitation and lack of medical care.
Since an outbreak of the disease in Jau, Bahrain’s main prison, in March, 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 detainees protested against conditions.
Bahraini opposition group al-Wefaq has called for the release of prisoners of conscience since the start of the pandemic.
Bahraini people have held rallies to urge the Al Khalifah rulers to release prisoners amid concerns over the alarming situation in the country’s prisons in light of the coronavirus outbreak.
The protesters hold the regime responsible for the lives of prisoners.
There has also been widespread condemnation of the regime’s media censorship regarding the number of infected inmates.
At least 220 political prisoners have been infected with the coronavirus.
Bahrain’s most prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim has already warned that political dissidents in prisons are facing death, demanding their immediate release.
The main opposition group, the al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, has also called for the release of prisoners of conscience since the start of the outbreak.
The latest development comes as the ruling Al Khalifah regime presses ahead with its crackdown on dissidents, with regime forces reportedly attacking and injuring dozens of inmates at the country’s prisons.