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Bahraini Tensions Heat Up Over Jailed Hunger Striker

Whereabouts, health unknown as authorities cut off contact with family, lawyers and protests erupt

- Common Dreams staff

In US backed Bahrain tensions are on the rise again as protesters clash with police over the whereabouts of two-month hunger striker Abdul Hadi al-Khawaj. Pro-democracy protests have faced continued brutal crackdowns for over one year, but protesters have recently taken to the streets in solidarity with Khawaj and hundreds of other political prisoners in Bahrain.

Protests in support of Khawaja have been happening regularly across Bahrain [Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters] Khawaj's health is in grave danger after over two months of hunger striking. Many have now become concerned that he may have already died. Zainab al-Khawaja, Khawaj's daughter, told Al-Jazeera that the family had "no idea" about the state of his health as they had not been allowed to call or visit him since this weekend.

Subsequent anger flowed into the streets last night as protesters clashed with police.

"Despite its criminal abuse of a prominent human rights champion in the Arab world, and despite the documented instances of killings, torture, and indefinite imprisonment of countless other Bahraini citizens, the U.S. government continues to support the Al-Khalifa regime in the face of its democratic uprising and refuses to publicly call for the release of Alkhawaja and other pro-democracy activists," states Murtaza Hussain at Salon.com.

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Policemen injured in Bahrain blast (Al-Jazeera):

On Sunday, Bahrain ruled out extraditing the jailed Bahraini political activist, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, also a Danish citizen, despite a request from Denmark to hand him over because his health was worsening after his hunger strike.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said Bahrain should consider transferring Khawaja to Denmark for medical treatment on humanitarian grounds. [...]

Daily protests to demand his freedom have been taking place across Bahrain, which crushed protests last year with the help of troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Western rights groups say Khawaja and 13 other opposition figures in prison for their role in last year's protests are prisoners of conscience and should be freed. [...]

Zainab al-Khawaja, the daughter of Abdul Hadi al-Khawaj, told Al Jazeera that the family had "no idea" about the state of his health as they had not been allowed to call or visit him.

Earlier on Monday, his lawyer Mohammed al-Jishi told the AFP news agency: "Authorities have been refusing since yesterday all requests, made by myself and by his family, to visit or contact al-Khawaja."

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U.S.’s shameful Bahrain policy (Salon.com)

Behind the walls of a prison compound, the man who helped lead last year’s pro-democracy protests in Bahrain is continuing a lonely, painful battle for freedom away from the media spotlight. Abdulhadi AlKhawaja has endured beatings, torture and a life sentence handed down from a military court, all for the “crime” of advocating human rights and democracy in his country. In response to these injustices, on February 8th 2012 he initiated a hunger strike which he promised to continue until either his release or his death, and which he has now led into its 61st day. After refusing to eat for two full months in protest of his imprisonment and torture he remains defiant, but the limits of what his body can take are being reached. After literally fighting prison officials to visit him, an act for which she was also detained for several days, his daughter reported that Khawaja is experiencing difficulty breathing and appears to be near death. As she described her brief visit with her father, “His tone and the way he was speaking were like he was saying goodbye….we’re not sure if we’ll ever see him again.” On the eve of his sentencing last year to life imprisonment, in a trial described by Amnesty to be unfair and politically motivated, Khawaja had raised his fist and proclaimed his intention to “continue on the path of peaceful resistance”, a promise which he has steadfastly kept and which has today brought him to this breaking point.

While Khawaja continues to peacefully resist by whatever means in his power, the Bahraini regime continues to suppress with brute force the pro-democracy movement he helped spearhead. Despite its criminal abuse of a prominent human rights champion in the Arab world, and despite the documented instances of killings, torture, and indefinite imprisonment of countless other Bahraini citizens, the U.S. government continues to support the Al-Khalifa regime in the face of its democratic uprising and refuses to publicly call for the release of Alkhawaja and other pro-democracy activists. While the U.S. has consistently proclaimed its intention to champion the cause of democratic uprisings in the Middle East and around the world, there continues to be a policy of “business as usual” in its dealings with a Bahraini government which has moved aggressively to crush a peaceful citizens movement calling for democracy and respect for human rights.

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