Bahrain transfers hunger striker to prison clinic

AP News
Posted: Apr 04, 2012 7:10 AM
Bahrain transfers hunger striker to prison clinic

An imprisoned Bahraini human rights activist, who has been on a hunger strike for more than 50 days has been moved to a prison clinic for medical observation and care, authorities said Wednesday.

Abdulhadi al-Khawaja is serving a life sentence for his role in last year's uprising in the Gulf kingdom. He was arrested last April during a crackdown against anti-government protests led by Bahrain's Shiite majority that has been demanding greater rights from the island nation's Sunni rulers.

Al-Khawaja, who is also a Danish citizen, has been refusing food since Feb. 8.

Bahrain's opposition supporters have been rallying for his release almost daily. Another protest is planned for later Wednesday.

Last week, Amnesty International urged Bahrain to free him because of fears he could die. On Tuesday, the Danish government said it has been "exerting maximum efforts" to have al-Khawaja sent to Denmark for medical treatment.

A government statement on Wednesday said the prison's rehabilitation official recommended the day before that al-Khawaja be transferred to the clinic "for constant medical observation and care."

It said that medical tests have showed al-Khawaja has lost "approximately 10 kilograms and was showing signs of low hemoglobin, although not at a critical level." It gave no further details on his health.

Al-Khawaja is one of seven opposition figures who have been sentenced to life imprisonment in a special security court, which was set up after Bahrain imposed martial law last March to quell political unrest in the tiny, but strategically important nation.

Bahrain is the home of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

Hundreds of other Bahrainis including protesters, activists, athletes and Shiite professionals such as doctors and nurses have been tried in the court. Dozens were jailed after being convicted of anti-state crimes, including medics who treated injured protesters during the unrest.

Bahrain lifted martial law in June. The special tribunal was disbanded in November and all protest-related trial were transferred to civilian courts. Al-Khawaja's lawyers appealed his conviction in Bahrain's highest court on Monday when judges refused to release him on bail.

Al-Khawaja, 52, is a former Middle East and North Africa director of the Ireland-based Frontline Defenders Rights organization. He has also documented human rights abuses in Bahrain for international rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Al-Khawaja is married and has four daughters. He's lived in exile in Denmark for decades. He returned to Bahrain after the government announced a general amnesty in 2001.