The recent hunger strikes in Bahrain’s Jau prison have been a topic of debate for some time now. While the exact number of hunger strikers is not always clear, it is known that they have been demanding various improvements and changes in their conditions.
Media reports claiming dire prisoner conditions are often based on interviews with former prisoners or their families, human rights organizations, and sometimes leaked information from within the prisons. Journalists might not have personally visited the prisons; hence they rely on these sources to provide information about the conditions faced by the hunger strikers and other prisoners. Although allegations of human rights abuses should be taken seriously, the sources of such allegations remain to be questionable.
The history of hunger strikes in Bahrain’s prisons can be traced back to the 2011 unrest. Hunger strikes have been used as a form of protest by prisoners affiliated with the political opposition to draw attention to their demands that include the release of prisoners sentenced for terrorist activities during the unrest period.
In response to the recent hunger strikes, the Bahraini government met with the concerned bodies and has taken measures such as conducting investigations into the allegations of mistreatment, and improving prison conditions. These actions can be seen as a confidence-building measure that addresses the concerns raised by the hunger strikers and their supporters. The responsiveness of the Ministry of Interior and the concerned bodies that investigated the hunger strike by visiting Jau prison, is certainly a commendable step.
The government has officially responded to some demands put forth by the prisoners, however those regarded by the opposition as political prisoners have chosen to escalate the situation by not ending the hunger strike. This raises the question of why the opposition is prolonging the strike and whether they are exploiting the situation to increase pressure on the government. One possible explanation for the opposition’s refusal to end the hunger strike is their dissatisfaction with the prison reforms promised by the government. They believe that these reforms fall short of addressing the core issues and demands. In addition, the opposition tends to exploit any situation to gain the sympathy of the international press and human rights organisations. It is also important to note that news about the hunger strike has been going around for more than a month and while this should be a matter of concern, it is unrealistic for the human body to physically survive without nutrition for such a long period of time, noting that the world record for longest survival without food or water is 18 days.
By rejecting the changes proposed by the Ministry of Interior, the opposition is sending a strong message that they are not willing to compromise on their demands for genuine change. It is important to consider the potential consequences of this approach. Disregarding the changes proposed by the government may result in the political opposition losing its relevance and credibility. This can lead to further isolation and disregard by both theirsupporters who have declined in number with time and the government. In fact, the opposition’s decision to boycott the parliamentary elections in 2014 is widely considered to be a major mistake that contributed to their current state of isolation. Rejecting any positive approach by the government, even if it may not be perfect, can lead the opposition into a cycle of failure.
It is crucial for opposition figures and organisations to critically assess the opportunities presented by the government and consider the potential for progress and a better future. By continuing to reject these opportunities, the opposition risks hindering any potential resolution. Therefore, it is in the best interest of the opposition to seriously consider ending the hunger strike and engaging in constructive dialogue with the government. This presents an opportunity to move forward towards a better future and potentially resolve the ongoing challenges. In addition, it is important for both sides to find common ground and work together for the benefit of the people and the stability of the country as hunger strikes will not lead to any solution.
The Prisoners and Detainees Right Commission, the National Institution for Human Rights and the Ombudsman in Bahrain play a crucial role in monitoring and addressing issues related to prison conditions and the treatment of prisoners. The National Institution for Human Rights is an independent body that investigates complaints and makes recommendations to the government, aiming to protect and promote human rights in Bahrain. The Ombudsman also plays a similar role, acting as an independent authority that investigates complaints against government institutions. These organisations play a vital role in protecting the rights of prisoners and pushing for improvements in prison conditions. However, those regarded by the opposition as political prisoners tend to disregard these organisations while addressing their grievances and continue to choose the path of unreasonable escalation.
The demands made by the hunger strikers and the positive responses from the government of Bahrain should be taken into consideration as a step forward. The Ministry of Interior’s response reflects the progressive approach taken by the government and this certainly presents an opportunity for hunger strikers and their supporters from the opposition to take such opportunities seriously, rather than disregarding any positive steps taken by the government and leading themselves into further isolation.