Bahrain prisoner release for National Day excludes prominent political prisoners

17 December 2019 – On Sunday, Bahrain’s king marked the country’s National Day by issuing a decree pardoning 269 prisoners. In a separate statement, the government announced that a further 530 inmates would also be granted alternative sentences.  In a rare move, the traditional demonstration of clemency on National Day also featured inmates held on political charges.  However, several prominent political figures will remain in prison, the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) said today.

While the government did not disclose the names of inmates to be released, a number of political prisoners have already returned home.  There were jubilant scenes as Medina Ali was released yesterday, greeted by family members and human rights activist Ebtisam Al Saegh.  Three sisters from Diraz convicted in political cases, Iman, Amal and Fatima Ali, were also freed.

There are now only 2 female political detainees left imprisoned in Bahrain; Zakeya Al Barboori and Hajer Mansoor, whose sentence the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has deemed to be an act of “reprisal” for the activism of her son-in-law, BIRD’s Director of Advocacy Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei.

Despite having under three months of her unlawful sentence left to serve and fulfilling the criteria for a non-custodial sentence, Hajer Mansoor was not pardoned or granted early release. Her requests for alternative sentencing have also been repeatedly rejected without cause, suggesting the government’s decision to be punitive.  Other high-profile political prisoners, including Bahrain’s preeminent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, will also remain in jail, despite eligibility for alternative sentencing, as will opposition leaders Hasan Mushaima, Dr Abduljalil Al Singace and Abdulhadi Al Khawaja.

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy at BIRD, commented: It is heartbreaking to see my mother-in-law singled out in a blatant act of revenge for my activism. Despite her eligibility for early release, Bahrain has consistently rejected her requests, demonstrating their continued intolerance for any form of criticism or dissent.  Bahrain retains the highest prison population rate in the Arab world, demonstrating that today’s releases are largely symbolic. Without the release of Bahrain’s prominent human rights defenders and opposition figures, the political crisis in the country will remain unresolved.  

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