DUBAI (Reuters) - Activists said prisoners protesting conditions in a Bahraini jail were beaten in a security operation last weekend that authorities had described as a response to disobedience following repeated warnings.
Tensions had been rising in the country's main Jau prison since an outbreak of COVID-19 last month, which authorities said had been contained. Outside the prison, detainees' families have been holding small protests demanding the release of political prisoners and better conditions.
Dissolved opposition group al-Wefaq, SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights, and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) said security forces used excessive force during Saturday's operation.
BIRD's Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, a Bahraini activist living in exile, said one prisoner told him that inmates had formed human chains in a sit-in that security forces tried to break up.
"They surrounded (one prisoner) and we could see the batons rise and fall on his body until they took him out," the inmate could be heard saying in a recorded phone conversation shared by Alwadaei.
The agency in charge of prisons, the General Administration of Reform and Rehabilitation, said in a statement on state media that several inmates at Jau prison had blocked corridors and refused to enter their wards.
Inmates did not heed warnings over several days to stop the behaviour which necessitated "security and legal measures to be taken against inmates who were in violation and committing acts of chaos and violence against police officers," the body said.
Bahrain's National Institution for Human Rights said on Sunday it had visited the prison to investigate the incident and found that "what has been raised regarding (inmates) being beaten and transported to unknown locations is incorrect".
Western-allied Bahrain has come under pressure from human rights organisations over prison conditions including overcrowding, poor sanitation and lack of medical care.
Hundreds of opposition politicians, activists, journalists and human rights defenders are in prison following an uprising in 2011 and subsequent years of government crackdowns.
Bahraini authorities said on March 28 that all inmates who requested COVID-19 vaccines had received them.
In common with other countries, Bahrain has freed some prisoners considered at risk, such as pregnant women.
(Reporting by Lisa Barrington; editing by Jonathan Oatis)