Concern mounts for Bahrain hunger striker

Family and lawyer of jailed activist Abdul Hadi al-Khawaja say days without contact have raised fears for his health.

Abdulhadi Khawaja
An image taken by his lawyer Mohamed al-Jishi on Saturday shows Khawaja in a hospital bed

The daughter of a jailed Bahraini activist who has been on a hunger strike for two months has said neither his family nor his lawyer have had any contact with him for two days, raising concerns about his health.

Zainab al-Khawaja, the daughter of Abdul Hadi al-Khawaj, told Al Jazeera on Monday that they had “no idea” about the state of his health as they had not been allowed to call or visit him.

Abdul Hadi al-Khawaja, a Shia activist who was condemned with other opposition figures to life in jail over an alleged plot to topple the Sunni monarchy during a month-long protest a year ago, began his hunger strike on the night of February 8.

Earlier on Monday, his lawyer Mohammed al-Jishi told the AFP news agency: “Authorities have been refusing since yesterday all requests, made by myself and by his family, to visit or contact al-Khawaja.”

Jishi said the last time he contacted Khawaja was on Saturday, a day after he was moved from the interior ministry hospital into a military hospital in Manama.

In a statement on Monday, Bahrain’s interior ministry said: “Abdul Hadi al-Khawaja’s state of health is good.”

It said he had been transferred to a military hospital “for the best medical treatment”, adding that he was being handled without “political or media pressure and with respect for human rights.”

Denmark transfer

Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said Bahrain should consider transferring Khawaja to Denmark for medical treatment on humanitarian grounds.

UN spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters Monday that “in cases where there is a hunger strike, the health and well-being of the person should be the foremost concern”, the Associated Press reported.

In Video

Al-Khawaja’s daughter, Zainab, speaks to Al Jazeera

On Sunday, Bahrain rejected a request to transfer Khawaja, who also holds Danish nationality, to Denmark, the state-run Bahrain News Agency reported.

“The handover of accused and convicted persons to foreign countries takes place under specific conditions … This does not apply in Abdulhadi al-Khawaja’s case,” a Supreme Judiciary Council official said, quoted by BNA on Sunday.

BNA had reported on Saturday that Bahrain was examining a request to transfer him to Denmark.

Speaking to Al Jazeera on Monday, Fahad al-Binali, from Bahrain’s Information Affairs Authority, said that it “must be remembered that the convictions against Abdul Hadi al-Khawaja are serious charges”.

“Any person who demands reform must understand that the rule of law comes first,” he said.

‘Freedom or death’

On Sunday, Khawaja’s daughter, Zainab, told Al Jazeera that while her father began the hunger strike saying it was “freedom or death”, his goal now was for the world to see what was happening to Bahrainis.

“To the hundreds of political prisoners … Right now there are prisoners as young as 12-years-old,” she said.

Front Line Defenders, a Dublin-based non-governmental organisation, warned on Tuesday after a visit to Manama that Khawaja, who had shed 25 per cent of his body weight, could die in jail and was “at risk of organ failure”. 

Bahraini authorities said he had lost some 10kg and was showing signs of low hemoglobin, “although not at a critical level, since prior to going on the strike”. 

Khawaja was “taking fluids, mineral supplements, glucose and juice on a daily basis”. 

Speaking to Al Jazeera on Saturday, Jishi, Khawaja’s lawyer, said his client’s health was further deteriorating despite the hospital intravenous drip. He said the drip is 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.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies