As anti-government protests continue in Bahrain, one man’s protest has been brought into sharp focus. Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, 52, has been on a hunger strike for 61 days, and may soon die, his family and lawyer say.
Khawaja, a Shia human rights activist, began his hunger strike to protest detentions in Bahrain after being sentenced to life in prison last June.Khawaja was charged with plotting to topple the Sunni monarchy during anti-government protests. While in prison, he was tortured and severely beaten, according to Amnesty International.
Since his hunger strike began, Bahraini authorities have turned down repeated requests to contact him. On Sunday, the government rejected a request to transfer him to Denmark, al-Jazeera reports. Khawaja is a Bahraini and Danish citizen.
Khawaja’s daughter Zaynab, who was arrested in December during a protest, is well-known for her outspoken tweets on human rights abuses in Bahrain under the name “Angry Arabiya.” Over the last two months, she has used Twitter to galvanize aid for her father and update supporters on his condition.
And today, again... my father lays in one of their hospital beds. Starving to death for freedom #bahrain— angry arabiya (@angryarabiya) April 9, 2012
Today marks the 60th day of my fathers hungerstrike, and 1 year exactly since his brutal arrest #Bahrain— angry arabiya (@angryarabiya) April 8, 2012
She also tweeted this photo of her father, reportedly on the 57th day of his hunger strike.
Before being imprisoned, Khawaja was president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), a coordinator for Front Line Defenders, another human rights group, and a member of the Advisory Board of the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies.
He also worked for Amnesty International, according to BCHR.
The anti-government uprising in Bahrain has failed to capture the attention of the world the way protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria have. But protesters have made scattered efforts for more than a year, often attempting to occupy the capital’s Pearl Square, where they have faced tear gas and stun grenades from police forces.
On Monday, demonstrators attempted to stage a sit-in at a main highway in Manama in support of Khawaja.
According to Amnesty International, Khawaja was detained “solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression.”
An open letter from a number of British politicians to the king of Bahrain, published Monday in the Guardian, agrees with the rights group, demanding Khawaja’s “urgent release on humanitarian grounds.”
The letter cites a report from the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), which found that in prison, Khawaja’s jaw was broken, he experienced regular beatings at night, and faced sexual assault and other torture.
“If your government allows Mr. al-Khawaja to die in prison, it will send a stark message,” the letter reads. “You have the power to release Mr. al-Khawaja. It will be a stain on Bahrain if his death comes before his freedom.”