Imprisoned Bahraini human rights activist Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja turned 51 yesterday, April 5. A former protection co-ordinator with Frontline, an NGO which supports human rights defenders, Al-Khawaja has been on a hunger strike for 58 days to protest a sentence of life in prison. After he was arrested last year in April, Al-Khawaja was convicted in June by a special security court for seeking to overthrow Bahrain’s king for his role in the pro-democratic protests last spring. His lawyer, Mohammed Al-Jishi, says that Al-Khawaja’s health deteriorated sharply on Friday; Al-Khawaja has lost 22 pounds and has been moved to a hospital clinic and is being fed intravenously.
On Thursday, his daughter and human rights activist Zainab Al-Khawaja was arrested during a protest for him and transferred to a prison on Friday morning. Police claim that she “attacked a public official,” says Al Jazeera.
Al-Khawaja Tortured In Prison
Al-Khawaja’s family says that he is case number eight in an account of abuse described by detainees in a report released in November by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI). The Bahraini government formed the commission after international pressure to investigate the unrest and the abuse of protesters and detainees. Al-Khawaja was beaten at the time of his arrest on April 8 and underwent surgery on his jaw afterwards. Eight days later, abuse resumed: Al-Khawaja was beaten on the soles of his feet and sodomized with a stick. According to the BICI report, he went on a hunger strike on February 8 at that time to stop the torture and protest his imprisonment.
Amnesty International says that Al-Khawaja was convicted in June “under duress” and that there was no evidence presented to show that he had committed or approved acts of violence.
The BICI report also says that some detainees died while being tortured and the Bahraini government has acknowledged this. A National Commission created by King Hamed ibn Isa Khalifa says that Bahrain has started to retrain its security forces and detention facilities. Activists contend that the National Commission’s report is “self-congratulatory” and that beatings and other brutalities, torture and imprisonment of political prisoners have continued.
Al-Khawaja was one of seven opposition leaders sentenced to life in prison last year for his part in the Shia-led uprising against Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy. Shi’ite Muslims comprise the majority of Bahrain’s population and have long described discrimination for government and military positions.
Bahrain is a U.S. ally and houses the Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
Almost Daily Protests in Bahrain
Thousands marched in support of al-Khawaja on Friday. Police fired tear gas and water cannons at protesters who marched carrying Al-Khawaja’s picture while shouting “freedom or martyrdom.” According to Al Jazeera, Sheikh Issa Qassim, Bahrain’s most senior Shia cleric, had said in a speech before the rally that, should Al-Khawaja die in custody, things could “get out of control.”
Bahrainis have also been protesting almost daily against the Formula One Grand Prix race that is to be held on April 20-22. Back in October of 2011, a Formula One Grand Prix race was cancelled due to “opposition from teams.”
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