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Should political prisoners be released to avoid the spread on Corona Virus?

BBC Arabic Service


A group of International and Arab Human Rights organizations called for the release of political prisoners in many countries in the Middle East in order to avoid the spread of Corona Virus, especially as many prisons are over-crowded. The show highlighted the terrible situation in many Arab prisons, as well as the urgent need to free political prisoners as Human Rights activists demanded.


The program supported and promoted the call by International Human Rights organizations to free political prisoners in the Middle East to avoid the spread of Corona Virus in prisons, especially as many prisons in the region are over-crowded and lack the minimum proper health requirements.

The show hosted first-hand witnesses and cases of people who suffered from abuse, such as ex-prisoners, or saw the direct impact of the abuse, such as medical staff. The show also hosted activists from different Arab countries, including Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

The list of the callers and guests in the show included:

  • Ex-Egyptian prisoner came to the show to talk about the miserable situation in Egyptian prisons, the lack of medical care, and the terrible health system, which would be worse in the time of pandemic.
  • An Egyptian Human-rights activist (living in Switzerland), explained that many Arab prisons lack the minimum health conditions, which will be a disaster for prisoners in the case of Corona Virus outbreak.
  • In order to guarantee balance in the debate, and that different views are represented, a member of the Egyptian parliament came to the show to defend the procedures that Egyptian government is taking to keep prisoners in good health. The Egyptian MP refused to accept that there any political prisoners in Egypt.
  • Bahrain and Saudi activists warned from the bad conditions in Bahrain and Saudi prisons.
  • Iraqi activist explained the political problems that stop the government from freeing political prisoners.
  • Syrian doctor in the United states explained that he himself watched over-crowded prisons. He explained how he treated prisoners who suffered from severe deterioration in their health after spending some time in Syrian prisons. He called Arab authorities to free political prisoners to avoid a health disaster that could spread to large sectors of the society. He stressed that spreading Corona Virus between prisoners will mean spreading the Virus among guards, soldiers, visitors and all the officials that dealing with prisoners.

Reach and Impact:

The program reached a wide Arab audience as it was broadcast on the BBC Arabic TV, Radio, and online. The episode was repeated many times on both Radio and TV, as well as being posted on YouTube in order to get the highest possible impact.

The program discussed freely the need to free political prisons, which could not be discussed in most of Arab media as it criticized the policies of many Arab regimes. Accordingly, the show raised the awareness of the risk of spreading Corona Virus among prisoners; a topic that usually ignored by Arab Media which is mostly under control, in one way or another, by Arab regimes.

After the show, Morocco and Jordan announced that they freed a group of prisoners for safety reasons. The show was one of the few TV and Radio programs that raised the issue, and contributed to the movement by some governments to reduce the number of prisoners.

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