In advance of Bahrain’s National Day tomorrow, BCHR calls for the Bahraini authorities to release all prisoners of conscience. Specifically, BCHR calls for the freedom of human rights defenders, journalists, activists, and other parties who have been arbitrarily imprisoned for exercising their freedom of expression, of association, and of peaceful assembly. The annual traditional demonstration of clemency on National Day is an opportunity for Bahrain to start turning the page on its human rights record.
Hundreds of political prisoners today remain in Bahraini prisons, including twelve of the country’s most prominent Shi’a civic, religious, and political leaders, eleven of which were incarcerated since 2011 for their participation in the pro-democracy protests. Despite its relatively small size, Bahrain has the second highest prison population rate in the Middle East. Notably, Bahrain has increased its crackdown on human rights defenders, civil society members, and other dissidents since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Between 2020 and 2021, for instance, at least 58 individualswere subjected to arrest, detention, or prosecution solely for their online and social media activity. Moreover, an investigation earlier this year by Citizen Lab and Amnesty International’s Security Lab revealed that several Bahraini activists, including five BCHR members, had their phones hacked by the NSO Group’s Pegasus malware. Historically, Bahrain has used similar spyware technology, which grants its operators full access of their phones’ contents, to interrogate and prosecute individuals.
As the COVID-19 virus and its variants continues to spread, it is more important than ever that political prisoners—who should not have been incarcerated in the first place—regain their freedom. For this reason, BCHR joins several international NGOs, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, in calling for Bahrain to release prisoners of conscience on Bahrain National Day.