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Jailed Bahrain activist Husain Barakat dies of COVID-19

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DUBAI -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.

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

Since an outbreak of the disease in Jau, Bahrain’s main 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.

The Interior Ministry said on Wednesday that Husain Barakat, 48, who had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in March, had died after being infected with the virus.

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

Britain-based human rights group the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) said Barakat was a political prisoner being held in Jau.

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 terror cell, BIRD said.

He was also stripped of his citizenship, which was later restored by royal decree, BIRD said.

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.

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.

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