On Tuesday, 11 September, political prisoners in Bahrain decided to halt their hunger strike after 36 days, following the deteriorating health of some inmates.
This decision follows a meeting between prison officials, representatives from the Interior Ministry, and a group of political inmates, where authorities told inmates that they will implement some of their demands within a maximum period of two weeks. After consultation with all the other inmates on strike, the prisoners agreed to suspend the strike until 30 September 2023, to allow the promised changes to be implemented. The inmates have said that “if the promises are not fulfilled, the strike will resume with even greater determination”.
The proposed deal includes:
- A special family visit (without glass barrier) for each inmate every 100 days.
- Allowing visitors up to the third degree of kinship.
- Return of some political inmates held in isolation to the buildings housing political prisoners, in view of reviewing all the isolation cases.
- Increased call duration (from 40 mins a week to 45), number of allowed contacts (from 5 contacts to 7), and adjusted call pricing.
- Extended hours of sunlight exposure.
- Revision of healthcare services and consideration of emergency cases.
The Bahraini government is positioning the temporary suspension of the hunger strike as a result of “beginning to apply measures to improve services offered,” according to the National Institution for Human Rights. However, the inmates have made it clear that they are determined to resume their hunger strike if authorities fail to implement their promises by 30 September, 2023. Thus, it is not the “end of the hunger strike” as suggested by Bahraini officials.
Human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja announced today, 12 September 2023, that he has resumed his hunger strike after authorities prevented him from attending a scheduled medical appointment at the hospital. His daughter, Maryam Al-Khawaja will be visiting Bahrain this week to “save my imprisoned father’s life”. Maryam will be joined by the other high profile human rights defenders on her trip, including the Secretary General of Amnesty International Agnes Callamard on her trip to Bahrain, which is aimed at raising the pressure on Bahraini authorities to release prisoners of conscience.
The Bahraini Crown Prince will be visiting the United States this week and is expected to meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. His visit will coincide with the third anniversary of the Abraham Accords, and a “strategic security and economic agreement” between the United States and Bahrain is expected to be signed, according to Axios.
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Advocacy Director at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), commented:
“It is a relief that the prolonged hunger strike has been suspended following serious concerns about the deteriorating health of many of the political prisoners. Authorities must honour their pledge and act quickly to improve prison conditions, rather than forcing prisoners to resume their strike and risk their lives to secure their basic human rights.
The debate should now shift from improving prison conditions to the unconditional release of all political prisoners, some of whom have spent a decade in prison solely for their participation in pro-democracy protests in 2011, and should not be in prison in the first place.
The Biden administration must leverage their meeting with the Crown Prince to secure the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners.”