The treatment of prisoners a measure of society


MANAMA, Bahrain — Pope Francis concluded the first-ever papal trip to Bahrain on Sunday by encouraging priests and nuns to continue serving the small Catholic flock in the Gulf kingdom. He specifically mentioned his prisoners, saying “how these ‘lesser ones’ are treated is a measure of a society’s dignity and hope”.

Francis again raised the plight of prisoners in Bahrain on the final test of his four-day trip. Rights groups had urged Francis to use his visit to Bahrain to demand an end to capital punishment and defend political prisoners, hundreds of whom have been detained since Bahrain violently crushed Arab Spring protests of 2011 with help from neighboring Saudi Arabia and the United States. United Arab Emirates.

Francis hailed the prison ministry undertaken by some of Bahrain’s Catholic Carmelite nuns during a meeting with clergy and nuns at the Church of the Sacred Heart in the capital Manama. Sister Rose Céline told Francis that her congregation works specifically with female prisoners, offering them counseling and religious direction.

Francis thanked her for her ministry and recalled that each time he meets prisoners, he asks himself the same question: “Why them and not me?”

“Dealing with prisoners is good for everyone, as a human community, because how these ‘minuses’ are treated is a measure of a society’s dignity and hope,” he said. he declares.

Francis has long maintained a penitentiary ministry, keeping in touch with the Argentine prisoners he knew while he was archbishop in Buenos Aires. He frequently visits prisons on his trips abroad and has celebrated Holy Thursday liturgies with inmates in the Rome area, but no such encounters were scheduled during his trip to Bahrain.

The government of Bahrain maintains that it respects human rights and freedom of expression, and that its criminal justice system complies with international law. However, activist groups have repeatedly criticized the state of prisons and prisoners during the years-long crackdown on dissent on the island.

According to the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, Bahrain ended a de facto moratorium on the death penalty in 2017 and has since executed six prisoners. The group and Human Rights Watch have documented a “dramatic increase” in the number of death sentences handed down since 2011, with 26 people currently on death row, half of them for political activities.

Upon his arrival in Bahrain on Thursday, Francis called on the authorities to refrain from using the death penalty and to ensure that basic human rights are guaranteed to all citizens. The government told The Associated Press that the country has a “zero tolerance policy towards discrimination, persecution or promotion of division based on ethnicity, culture or faith”. Yet the crackdown has largely targeted the island’s Shiite majority and those calling for government reforms.


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