Bahraini security forces tear-gassed and beat inmates at a prison on Tuesday while trying to quell clashes that erupted during family visits, a local human rights group said, causing some injuries among the detainees.
The Gulf Arab state has remained prone to political strife since a failed uprising in 2011 by the Shi'ite Muslim majority demanding reforms and a bigger share in government. Hundreds of people, mostly Shi'ites, have been jailed for participating in illegal protests or involvement in attacks on security forces.
Nader al-Salatna, acting president of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human rights, said the disturbance at Jaw prison was sparked by an assault by security guards on family members trying to visit relatives held at the remote facility, located south of the capital Manama.
“This caused clashes between prisoners and police, in which tear gas and rubber bullets were used,” Salatna told Reuters.
The Interior Ministry of the Sunni Muslim-ruled monarchy said families vandalized and damaged the building and assaulted police when they were denied a request to visit relatives.
“Police restored order, arrested those involved and referred the case to the relevant authorities,” the ministry said in a message posted on its Twitter account.
Social media messages reported that at least two inmates, identified as Ali Hussein Abdel-Nabi and Jameel Abdel-Ghani from the village of Shahrakan, were “severely beaten” by police.
Pictures posted on social media showed a person with a bandaged head and a man with a bleeding arm that seemed to have been hit by blows. Other photos showed young men standing in a room with overturned furniture or strewn with plastic bags.
It was not immediately possible to verify the authenticity of the photographs, or where they were taken.
Jaw prison is the main facility for hundreds of people jailed over participation in anti-government protests or political violence, or involvement in armed attacks on security forces or civilians.
In 2013, at least 40 Bahraini prisoners were hurt when security forces used batons, tear and pepper gas and stun grenades against inmates protesting over their conditions.
Bahrain, a small island state sandwiched between Shi'ite power Iran to the northeast and allied Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia to the south, is strategically important to the West as it hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet.