More than 100 jailed Bahraini activists _ including doctors who treated injured protesters during months of anti-government protests and crackdowns in the Gulf kingdom _ are on hunger strike, an international panel said Wednesday.
The Bahrain Commission of Inquiry said in a statement that 84 opposition supporters are on hunger strike in prison. In addition, 17 detained activists have been hospitalized by the Interior Ministry for their refusal to eat.
Hundreds of activists have been imprisoned since February when Shiite-led demonstrations for greater rights began in the Sunni-ruled Bahrain, the home of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. More than 30 people have been killed since protests inspired by Arab uprisings began in February.
Large clashes broke out between riot police and youth protesters after a celebration over the release of one of the doctors from prison in northern city of Dih.
An unknown number of protesters were wounded when security forces fired shotguns, according to witnesses. Clashes between youth and police are a near nightly occurence in Bahrain, but Wednesday evening's clashes in Dih were the largest in weeks, witnesses said.
The five-member panel has been set up in June to investigate the unrest. Wednesday's statement said an international expert on hunger strikes will join the panel to visit the striking detainees and evaluate their condition.
"Medical advice will be provided and the expert will discuss the challenges of hunger strike," the statement said, adding that the hunger strike started nine days ago.
Among the jailed activists on hunger strike are doctors who are on trial in a special security court on charges of participating in efforts to overthrow Bahrain's 200-year-old monarchy.
The doctors' trial is being closely watched by rights groups, which have criticized Bahrain's use of the security court, which includes military prosecutors and civilians and military judges.
The case against 11 health professionals was back in the special tribunal on Wednesday. After the hearing, the eleven defendants were released from custody, although they remain charged with anti-state crimes, a lawyer for one of the doctors said. It was not immediately clear if the released doctors continue to strike.
The lawyer, Hassan Radhi, told The Associated Press the trial adjourned until Sept. 26.
Other jailed opposition supporters have joined the strike, including two prominent Shiite activists, Abdul Jalil al-Singace and Abdulhadi al-Khawaja. They were sentenced to life in prison in June for their role in protests.
The Bahrain Commission of Inquiry includes international judicial and human rights experts. They started the probe with the consent of the Sunni rulers.
The commission's findings are expected Oct. 30.
Shiites comprise about 70 percent of Bahrain's 525,000 people, but are blocked from top political and security posts.