Bahrain says hunger strike activist in "good condition"

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 10, 2012 1:54 PM
Bahrain says hunger strike activist in "good condition"

DUBAI (Reuters) - A jailed leader of Bahrain's pro-democracy protests is in "good condition" despite two months on hunger strike, the state news agency BNA said on Tuesday, but added his life could be at risk if he keeps refusing food and medication.

Bahraini security forces, with help from other Sunni-led Gulf Arab states, crushed last year's pro-democracy uprising, mainly by majority Shi'ite Muslims against the Sunni royal family, but protests remain frequent and often end in violence.

Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who also holds Danish citizenship, went on hunger strike in early February after he was sentenced to life in jail for trying to topple the monarchy and other offences. Thirteen other activists were also convicted.

Concern over his health has sparked frequent protests in the small Gulf island, and demonstrators have also been protesting almost daily against plans to hold the Formula One Grand Prix there later this month.

Last year's race in Bahrain was postponed, reinstated and then cancelled because of the uprising and the bloody crackdown.

Former world champion Damon Hill has called on Formula One bosses to reconsider holding the race in Bahrain, warning them that going ahead could damage the image of motor racing.

But the governing International Automobile Federation (FIA), commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone and Bahrain organizers have all said the April 22 race is on.

One unnamed team principal told Britain's Guardian newspaper on Monday: "I feel very uncomfortable about going to Bahrain."

"If I'm brutally frank, the only way they can pull this race off without incident is to have a complete military lock-down there. And I think that would be unacceptable, both for Formula One and for Bahrain. We're all hoping the FIA calls it off."

An FIA spokesman told Reuters over the Easter weekend that the Paris-based body was "constantly monitoring and evaluating the situation" and keeping in touch daily with foreign embassies and the authorities in Bahrain.

PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCE

Western rights groups say Khawaja and other activists are prisoners of conscience and should be freed. An appeal hearing into his conviction began last week.

On Sunday Bahrain, home of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, ruled out extraditing Khawaja despite a request from Denmark to hand him over for health reasons.

On Tuesday, the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists (ICR) said it feared for his life and called for his immediate release.

The BNA said on Tuesday that Khawaja's health had deteriorated sharply before he was transferred to a military hospital last week.

It cited Bahraini Attorney General Abdelrahman al-Sayed as saying that two international experts who flew to Bahrain on Saturday had examined Khawaja and prepared a report on his health.

"He is now in good condition and shows cooperation with doctors," BNA quoted the report as saying.

"The report indicated that Khawaja's general health has deteriorated severely since his arrest last year, and that if he continues on hunger strike, refusing medical intervention, his life will be in danger," BNA said.

Khawaja's lawyer said no one had been allowed to visit him since he was moved to the military hospital on Friday, and his family were "very worried."

"The last time we talked to him was on Saturday evening for two minutes. His voice was very exhausted and he said he was going to stop drinking water in protest at his bad treatment at the hospital," Mohammed al-Jishi told Reuters on Tuesday.

Jishi said he had last seen Khawaja on Wednesday at another hospital. He was fed intravenously after his health worsened and his weight fell by 10 kg (22 pounds). "He was able to speak and was aware of his surroundings but was not able to move around normally," he said.

On Monday, seven Bahraini policemen were wounded when a home-made bomb exploded during a protest near the capital calling for Khawaja's release.

(Reporting By Mirna Sleiman and Rania El Gamal; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Tim Pearce)