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The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Bahrain to release 126 prisoners amid protests over virus fears

Rights groups say Covid-19 infections are rampant in prisons [Getty]

Date of publication: 2 April, 2021

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The inmates will serve the rest of their sentence out of prison, the Bahraini public prosecution said.

Bahrain announced on Friday it would allow more than 100 inmates to serve the balance of their jail time out of prison, as protesters and rights groups voiced fears over coronavirus cases among detainees.

The public prosecution said in a statement that 126 prisoners would serve the remainder of their sentences in an "alternative" or non-custodial setting, adding that the convicts would be monitored electronically.

Dozens of prisoners' relatives protested on Friday in the suburbs of the capital Manama amid heavy security to demand the release of their family members, according to social media accounts verified by AFP.

Bahraini authorities said last week that three people at the Gulf kingdom's Jaw prison were infected with Covid-19. It said they had been isolated and were in stable condition.

Citing the interior ministry, the official Bahrain News Agency later reported that a vaccine campaign for all prisoners who registered for it had been completed. 

But according to the London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), there have been dozens of infections among prisoners. 

"If Bahrain's government is serious about tackling this outbreak, they should be fully transparent rather than undermining the seriousness of the situation at hand," said Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director of BIRD in a statement last week.

Activists say Jaw prison has a maximum capacity of approximately 1,200 but that the number of inmates, including political opponents, is at least three times that number.

Nabeel Rajab, one of Bahrain's most prominent rights activists who was freed from jail in June, welcomed Friday's decision. 

"May it be a good omen," he tweeted.

Since Bahrain's 2011 uprising, which ended in a bloody crackdown with the help of Saudi forces, opposition parties have been banned and dozens of political opponents jailed, triggering international criticism. 

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