A Shiite opposition leader jailed in Bahrain is gravely ill and prison authorities have not provided him with proper treatment, relatives said on Friday.
Hassan Mesheima's son Mohammed told The Associated Press his father was treated for cancer before he was jailed in March for his role in protests for greater rights by the Gulf kingdom's Shiite majority. He said his father told him the cancer has returned and that he needed more treatment. Mesheima's family asked authorities to facilitate it, but "our efforts were rejected," his son said in a phone interview.
Mesheima and seven other opposition leaders were convicted in June by a special security court of trying to overthrow Bahrain's Sunni rulers and sentenced to life in prison.
Bahrain's Information Authority denied allegations that Mesheima's health was deteriorating and said the 64-year-old opposition figure was not being mistreated in prison.
"The government can confirm that there has been no reoccurrence of cancer, according to (Mesheima's) medical records and an extensive checkup which occurred only 22 days ago," the Information Authority said in an emailed statement Friday.
Bahrain's authorities have long considered Mesheima a potential enemy of the state. His group, Al Haq, is considered more radical than the main Shiite political bloc, Al Wefaq, which took a leading role in the uprising that erupted in February.
Last year, while Mesheima was in self-exile in London and receiving cancer treatment, he was tried in absentia along with 24 other Shiite activists accused of plotting to overthrow the Al Khalifa dynasty, which has ruled the island nation for more than 200 years.
Bahrain's leaders dropped the case in February at the height of the anti-government protests. Many observers saw that as an attempt by the Sunni rulers to ease the pressure of the massive wave of street marches and sit-ins by the Shiite majority.
After getting guarantees that he wouldn't be arrested, Mesheima returned to the country to support the anti-government protests, which were inspired by other Arab uprisings.
Then in March, Mesheima and hundreds of opposition leaders, activists, protesters, athletes and Shiite professionals like doctors and lawyers were arrested when authorities declared martial law to quell this year's unprecedented unrest in Bahrain, the home of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.
Al Wefaq said in a statement Thursday that Mesheima's health was "in critical condition" and urged authorities to provide appropriate medical care for him. Bahrain's most senior Shiite cleric, Sheik Isa Qassim, warned the government against "ignoring Hassan Mesheima's illness" at Friday prayers.
Shiites represent about 70 percent of Bahrain's 525,000 citizens. They have long complained of discrimination in the tiny but strategically important Gulf country. The protesters' demands included abolishing the monarchy's privileges to set policies, control the economy and appoint all key political posts.