Bahrain’s King Takes Activists by Surprise With Pardon for at Least 1,500 Prisoners

Bahrain has unconditionally released more than 1,500 prisoners, including political detainees, in the biggest royal pardon since the 2011 Arab spring uprising.

The amnesty followed years of campaigning inside the country and by international human rights groups but came as a complete surprise to activists.

Amnesty Bahrain said: “This is a welcome step. Many of [the prisoners] should not have been imprisoned in the first place.”

The releases were ordered by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, coinciding with Eid and the silver jubilee of the king taking power. The US embassy in Bahrain welcomed the move and expressed the hope that all those being released will be reunited with their families.

Many of the detainees have been held in Jau prison, where campaigners said more than 600 political prisoners remain, including some in need of urgent medical help. Recent riots inside prisons had made the expense of keeping so many behind bars a burden on the state

The changes also represent a chance for Bahrain to improve its global image, increase foreign direct investment and encourage tourism. It followed a visit to Saudi Arabia by Bahrain’s crown prince, a visit that might have led to a Saudi endorsement of the move.

On social media, joyful scenes of families being reunited in their homes were screened, including some who had not been in their family home for as long as a decade.

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The Guardian

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