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In Bahrain, a Thousand Tears for One Hug

People rally in Bahrain on May 8th calling on authorities to stop the human rights abuses taking place in Jaw prison. Photo from Al Wefaq National Islamic Society's Official Twitter Account @AlWefaqEN

Archive photograph: People rally in Bahrain on May 8, 2015, calling on authorities to stop the human rights abuses taking place in Jaw prison. Photo from Al Wefaq National Islamic Society's Official Twitter Account @AlWefaqEN

Bahrainis responded to a Twitter campaign call to press the Dry Dock prison administration to improve the poor conditions of the facility and remove the glass barriers that keep the detainees apart from their families and children during scheduled visits. The prison is a remand center where detainees are placed until the courts decide on their cases. Many prisoners have been there for months as their detentions are renewed and trials adjourned several times, whilst deprived from hugging or even shaking hands with family members and children.

Reema Ashallan, a Bahraini lawyer, joined the campaign tweeting:

Many detainees in the Dry Dock prison have gone on hunger strike. A number of them suffered health setbacks as they protested the [prison] conditions.

In another tweet, she added:

A number of families of detainees in the Dry Dock prison complained to the Ombudsman Office about the poor conditions, but nothing changed.

Bahraini human rights defender Ebtisam Alsaegh made an appeal to the Red Cross:

The Red Cross must intervene to promptly follow the cases of which detainees have been affected and to improve their conditions.

Zainab Mohamed, who has been campaigning for the release of her husband, Mohamed Ramadan, shared a photograph of her child drawing out his feelings with his little fingers. With that, she attached a picture of her husband giving their child a kiss on the cheek from behind a glass barrier.

Father, I wish I was in prison to remain with you.

Mohsin Mohamed shared interview footage with family members of a 17-year-old detainee, Dawood Khalil, held in the Dry Dock prison.

When I go to see my brother there [in prison] I see him crying, I want to hug him but I can't. I want to shake hands with him and I can't. I want to play with him. Break your silence so they break the inhumane barrier.

In a longer video of the same interview, the mother said that her son was made to confess to charges under coercion. She also mentions that he has joined the hunger strike.

Fatima Halwachi, head of monitoring and documentation at the European-Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights, tweeted to her followers:

The detainees’ health condition is at risk, especially those with chronic diseases as they are denied medicine and medical care and threatened to be denied drinking water.

Fatima has had her own heartbreaking experience waiting for two years to get to hug her jailed father.

As a Swedish citizen, Fatima published an open letter to the president of the European Parliament, urging for interference to release her father, Khalil Alhalwachi, an activist and teacher and one of thousands of Bahraini dissidents who have been locked up for their opinions and political activism.

In her letter she describes the feeling of having to meet loved ones from behind a barrier:

For the past 16 months I have been denied to touch, hug and feel the warmth of my father’s hands. Every week in our 25-minutes visit inside prison, he is sat behind a glass barrier, where our only connection is by placing our hands against each other behind the glass and wish we could feel the touch.

A scene I only witnessed in movies but never thought it could ever happen to me!

Yet, these cases are few of many. One cannot imagine the feelings of a father who is deprived from holding his newly born child.

In September 2015, five years after the eruption of nationwide pro-democracy protests, 33 member states of the United Nations Human Rights Council released a damning joint-statement expressing “serious concern” over the human rights situation in Bahrain and urging for the release of prisoners of conscience. Today, and as the HRC meets again, nothing seems to have changed in Bahrain.

Five years on, the center of those protests in the capital Manama remains shut down and protests have been banned all together.

American journalist Therese Day, who was recently detained in Bahrain while covering protests, explains the situation in more detail in her first interview following her release.

As more people are detained and released on a daily basis, human rights activists estimate the number of political prisoners at around 4,000 people, including many juveniles.

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