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The New Arab Staff

UN ‘disturbed’ by use of 'disproportionate force' on Bahrain jail sit-in

Imnates' families have raised concerns over the lack of prompt access to healthcare [Getty]

Date of publication: 1 May, 2021

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Bahrain's special forces reportedly used stun grenades and beat detainees in the country's main prison.

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The United Nations human rights office (OHCHR) on Friday said it is “disturbed” by Bahrain's security forces using “unnecessary and disproportionate” to break up a peaceful sit-in at the country’s main prison on April 27.

Marta Hurtado, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, called on Bahrain to conduct a “thorough and effective” investigation into the violent repression of the sit-in.

Witnesses reported that “special forces threw stun grenades and beat detainees on their heads, badly injuring many of them,” Hurtado mentioned.

She added that Bahraini authorities took 33 demonstrators “to another building in the prison, where they are being kept incommunicado, and have been unable to make contact with families or lawyers, in violation of both national and international law”.

The inmates were protesting poor detention conditions, including the lack of access to essential medical treatment.

The sit-in outside the Jau prison, south of the capital Manama, began on April 5, after political prisoner Abbas Malallah died after reportedly being denied prompt access to healthcare, OHCHR reported.

OHCHR said that limited healthcare in overcrowded Bahraini prisons “has been an issue for years, but has become a chronic problem” during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The spread of the pandemic in Bahrain’s prisons has sparked protests across the country. In response, the authorities have detained dozens of protesters for breaching COVID-19 restrictions,” Hurtado said.

Families of detainees held small protests outside the prison, demanding the release of political prisoners and better conditions.

Former members of the Al-Wefaq party, which was the largest opposition party in Bahrain until it was dissolved in 2016, SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) also accused security forces of using excessive force.

BIRD’s chairman Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei said one prisoner told him that inmates had formed human chains in a sit-in that security forces tried to break up.

“They surrounded [one prisoner] and we could see the batons rise and fall on his body until they took him out,” the inmate could be heard saying in a recorded phone conversation Alwadaei shared with Reuters.

Bahrain’s General Directorate of Reform and Rehabilitation, which is in charge of the prisons, said in a statement that several inmates at the prison had blocked corridors and refused to enter their wards.

It added that inmates did not heed warnings over several days to stop the behaviour which made necessary “security and legal measures to be taken against inmates who were in violation and committing acts of chaos and violence against police officers."

The UN body called on authorities to provide timely medical treatment for inmates and urged authorities to consider releasing more detainees to ease prison congestion.

“In particular, those being detained for expression of critical or dissenting views, protected by international human rights law, should be released immediately,” Hurtado said.

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