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Bahrain: Hundreds of freed political prisoners chant for ‘Free Palestine’

April 12, 2024 at 8:13 am

Families gather in the southern Bahraini city of Hamad to welcome their freed relatives in Hamad Town, Bahrain on April 08, 2024. [Ayman Yaqoob – Anadolu Agency]

Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa has unconditionally released more than 1,500 prisoners, including political detainees, in the largest royal pardon since the 2011 Bahraini Uprising as part of the Arab Spring.

The surprise amnesty coincided with Eid Al-Fitr and the king’s Silver Jubilee in power. Many of the detainees were welcomed back by their families after years of imprisonment, with some having not been home for as long as a decade.

According to the New Arab, hundreds of former political prisoners released on Tuesday chanted support for Palestine upon their release. Commenting on X, Bahraini human rights defender and activist Maryam Al-Khawaja said the prisoners left the jail “with their heads held high and chanting for Palestine.”

Despite the government’s normalization of ties with Tel Aviv in 2020 as part of the US-brokered Abraham Accords, solidarity with Palestine remains strong among Bahraini citizens.

Meanwhile, Sayed Ahmed Al-Wadaei, director of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), said the release came as a complete shock as there “had been no prior indication”.

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On Monday, the Bahrain News Agency (BNA) said that “this royal decree reflects his majesty’s keenness to maintain the cohesion and stability of the Bahraini society while protecting its social fabric.”

The pardons cover “those convicted for riot and criminal cases”, and were announced as King Hamad marks 25 years since his ascension to the throne, BNA added.

The move, which comes after years of campaigning by international human rights groups, is seen as a positive step, although activists believe that there are still approximately 600 political prisoners remaining behind bars, including some on death row.

While some of the released prisoners have expressed their support for Palestine and voiced chants against the US and Israel, others continue to call for the release of those still detained.

The royal pardon is also seen as an opportunity for Manama to enhance its global image, attract foreign direct investment, and promote tourism. The Guardian notes that the release may have been influenced by a recent visit to Saudi Arabia by Bahrain’s crown prince, potentially leading to a Saudi endorsement of the move.

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