Bahraini security forces have fired tear gas and water cannons at thousands of protesters marching in support of a jailed human rights activist whose nearly two-month hunger strike has become a rallying point for the nation’s Shia-led uprising against the Sunni monarchy.
“Freedom or martyrdom,” cried marchers who carried portraits of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, whose declining health has brought appeals for international intervention from groups such as UK-based rights group Amnesty International.
Khawaja, who has been on hunger strike for 58 days, was moved to a hospital, where he was given intravenous fluids, on Friday after his health deteriorated sharply, his lawyer said.
On Wednesday, the Information Affairs Authority said Khawaja had been moved to a clinic after losing 10kg.
Khawaja’s lawyer said the activist had now been moved to a military hospital.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Mohamed al-Jishi, Khawaja’s lawyer, said his client’s health was further deteriorating despite the hospital intravenous drip.
Jishi said the intravenous drip was only a saline/glucose solution.
“The doctors said this won’t be enough to keep him alive. He is in a critical phase and he still needs to take food”, he said of reports that Khawaja was being fed through the drip.
Khawaja and seven other opposition leaders were sentenced to life in prison in June after bring convicted of anti-state crimes.
Bahrain’s Shia majority began an uprising nearly 14 months ago against the political controls of the Sunni monarchy, which remains backed by its Western allies and holds strategic ties such as hosting the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
Almost daily protests are also held against Bahrain’s hosting of the Formula One Grand Prix on April 20-22.
Former world champion Damon Hill has called on Formula One bosses to reconsider going ahead with the plan and warned the sport’s image could suffer otherwise.
Security forces used tear gas, water cannons and stun grenades at the crowds on Friday as they moved toward the heavy fortifications ringing Pearl Square in the capital Manama, which was the initial hub of the protests last year before being raided by riot police and troops.
There were no immediate reports of serious injuries.
The rallies followed a strongly worded sermon by Sheikh Issa Qassim, Bahrain’s most senior Shia cleric, who predicted the unrest could “get out of control” if Khawaja dies in custody.
Khawaja holds Danish citizenship and officials in Copenhagen have urged Bahraini authorities to allow him to travel to Denmark for medical treatment.
Surgery on jaw
Khawaja’s family have identified him as case number eight in abuse recounted by unnamed detainees in the November report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, which Manama formed after international pressure to investigate the unrest.
The detainee underwent surgery on his jaw after he was beaten up on arrest on April 8.
The account says that abuse resumed eight days later, including beatings on the soles of his feet and being sodomised with a stick.
The report says the detainee went on hunger strike at that time in an effort to stop the torture.
Bahrain’s government has acknowledged the report’s finding that some detainees died under torture, but says it is implementing reforms of its security forces and detention facilities that will prevent future abuses.
Earlier on Friday, Khawaja’s daughter, Zainab, was transferred to prison after her arrest during protests in support of her father on Thursday, said Jishi. Bahrain police allege she attacked a public official.