Bahraini Hunger-Striker Continues Struggle of 'Arab Spring'
Five weeks into his hunger strike, family members say Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, one of the best-known human rights activists in Bahrain, is now so weak that he can barely stand, according to a report in Al-Jazeera. Al-Khawaja and six others were given life sentences by the Bahraini government in what human rights groups have called an unfair trial. He has been on hunger strike now since February 8.
"On Sunday his situation was very bad. My mother said she could barely hear him on the phone," said Maryam al-Khawaja, one of his daughters. "He reached a situation where he could not stand up, even to perform his prayers."
Al-Khawaja is one of 14 activists and political leaders arrested last April. He was taken from his home at night, according to members of his family, who say he was beaten and not allowed to bring his medication with him.
The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), the government-sponsored panel which studied the unrest, corroborated some of those claims in its November report, which said the activists arrested in April were seized by masked men late at night.
"In many cases, the arresting units forcefully entered the homes of these individuals, destroyed personal property, including cars, [and] failed either to identify themselves or to inform the arrested individual of the reasons for arrest or to show arrest warrants," the report said in a section which mentioned al-Khawaja by name.
His family says the abuse continued after his arrest. Al-Khawaja was admitted to a military hospital last year with a cracked jaw and skull, among other injuries, and reportedly underwent several surgeries.
The activists were tried by a military court in May, charged with "organising and managing a terrorist group", among other offences. Seven of them, including al-Khawaja, received life sentences, while the rest received shorter jail terms. Those sentences were upheld following an appeal in September.
Amnesty International has described some of the detainees as "prisoners of conscience" convicted simply for attending protests.
"We have very, very serious concerns about his case, and the cases of the other people," said Said Boumedouha, a researcher at Amnesty who has worked extensively on Bahrain.
"The trial before a military court, the allegations of torture that were never investigated ... and there was a lack of any evidence used to prove that these people used violence, or advocated violence."