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Bahrain: Jailed activist Husain Barakat dies of Covid-19

Forty-eight-year-old activist dies after a second outbreak of the virus at the kingdom's main Jau prison
Barakat was sentenced in 2018, along with another 53 individuals, to life in prison in a mass trial of 138 defendants (ADHRB)

A Bahraini activist serving a life sentence has died after contracting Covid-19, the interior ministry and activists said on Wednesday, as the tiny Gulf state fights a surge in coronavirus infections.

The ministry said Husain Barakat, 48, who had been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus in March with the Sinopharm vaccine, had died after being infected with the virus.

He had been taken from prison to a hospital on 29 May, it said, adding that he required a respirator in recent days.

Footage posted on social media showed people taking to the streets on Wednesday to protest over his death.

Western-allied Bahrain has come under pressure from human rights organisations over prison conditions including overcrowding, poor sanitation and lack of medical care.

The British-based human rights group the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (Bird) said Barakat was a political prisoner being held in Jau, the kingdom's main prison.

Since an outbreak of the disease in the prison in March, families have been holding small protests demanding the release of political prisoners and better conditions. 

There was a violent confrontation between guards and prisoners in April after detainees protested against conditions, Reuters reported.

Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), said a second outbreak at Jau began on 22 May and has infected an estimated 60 percent of the 255 political prisoners housed at Building 12 of the prison.

According to figures obtained by ADHRB and Bird, at least 300 prisoners have recovered from the virus since the beginning of the first outbreak.

Husain’s son, Ali Barakat, is also serving a 22-year-sentence in Jau, after being convicted on political charges in a separate case when he was just 16, according to his mother.

Call for release of prisoners

Barakat was sentenced in 2018, along with another 53 individuals, to life in prison in a mass trial of 138 defendants accused by authorities of belonging to a terrorism cell, Bird said.

He was also stripped of his citizenship, which was later restored by royal decree, it added.

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The interior ministry said Barakat had received regular medical attention and phone calls while in prison.

Dissolved Bahraini opposition group al-Wefaq has called for the release of prisoners of conscience since the start of the pandemic.

Bahrain has freed some prisoners considered at risk, such as pregnant women, in response to the health crisis.

New daily Covid-19 cases surged to record highs in mid- to late-May, reaching more than 3,000 new cases a day, after having been below 200 a day at the end of last year. 

Bahrain on Tuesday said 1,279 new cases had been recorded, with 18 deaths. According to Reuters, the island nation has fully vaccinated more than half of the country's population.

Bahrain's government, which denies carrying out torture in prisons, has said it offered vaccinations to all prisoners and that appropriate measures were taken to deal with Covid-19 outbreaks.