During his visit to the Sacred Heart Church in Manama, Bahrain, on Nov. 6, Pope Francis told nuns and priests to look after the welfare of prisoners in the country's jails. The pontiff explained that how a society treats persons deprived of liberty reflects its dignity and hope.
Fight for Prisoners' Rights
Francis' call for protecting and promoting prisoners' rights was partly thanks to the urging by human rights groups for the pope to use his Bahrain trip to amplify the issue.
According to a report by Click On Detroit, the pope urged Bahrain's Catholic religious to sustain their ministerial work for the nation's Catholic flock. He also talked about the prisoners and explained that "the way in which these 'least ones' are treated is a measure of the dignity and the hope of a society."
Francis' call echoes the sentiments of human rights advocates on how the Middle Eastern nation detained hundreds of individuals who participated in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising. The pope also called for the Bahrain leadership to stop enforcing the death penalty on offenders.
The pontiff likewise lauded the efforts of Carmelite nuns who run a prison ministry. Sister Rose Celine told the pope that the Catholic Carmelite nuns reach out to female prisoners by providing them with spiritual guidance and counseling.
"Caring for prisoners is good for everyone, as a human community, since the way in which these 'least ones' are treated is a measure of the dignity and the hope of a society," Click On Detroit quoted Francis saying.
The report said that the pope has a particularly close affinity with prisoners, proven by his continued contacts with Argentine prisoners during his time as Buenos Aires' archbishop. The news website said that the pope also finds time to visit prisons during his international sorties.
Compliant or Not?
In its defense, Bahrain officials claimed that the government, through its handling of criminal justice, complies with the provisions of international law. It said that the state recognizes its citizens' right to free speech and all human rights.
Despite such pronouncements, human rights advocates claim that the Bahrain government's treatment of prisoners leaves much to be desired. Activists allege that the government's crackdown on dissenters and the state of prisoners and jailed political activists contrast the latter's claim of humane treatment.
For one, the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy disclosed that the government ceased to honor in 2017 a moratorium on capital punishment. Since then, the group claimed that the government had ordered six people to be executed.
Both the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy and the group Human Rights Watch noted a significant rise in Bahrain's capital punishment verdicts since 2011. The groups also said there are at least 26 individuals on death, with 50% classified as political activists.
Upon his arrival on Wednesday, the pope urged the country's leaders to stop handing out death sentences. The pontiff also pleaded for authorities to guarantee respect for citizens' fundamental human rights.
Despite claiming that Bahrain's government does not tolerate "policy towards discrimination, persecution or the promotion of division based on ethnicity, culture or faith," the report bared that the authorities mainly targeted activists urging the government to institute reforms. The article said the crackdowns also allegedly focused on the country's Shiite population.