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Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and the unjust detention of Bahrain’s Political Prisoners

Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and Bahrain’s Political Prisoners
Tahiyya Lulu = 11 APril, 2012 – Jadaliyya

There are currently an estimated six hundred political prisoners in Bahrain, as a result of the regime’s ruthless retaliation against a popular uprising that started in February 2011. 397 citizens are thought to be currently serving sentences delivered by military and civilian courts that fall far short of international standards for fair trials.

On Saturday, 7 April 2012, one of these prisoners was transferred to a prison clinic after allegedly losing twenty-five percent of his body weight as the result of a hunger strike begun on 8 February 2012. Fifty-one-year-old human rights defender Abdulhadi al-Khawaja has reportedly said: “My hunger strike is a part of my human rights defense inside jail. It’s very important to focus on all detainees as I’m just a part of them. I will continue with my hunger strike until I reach my demands despite the consequences. I’m aware that freedom is expensive and we must sacrifice to gain it.”

The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), paid for by the government itself and led by Professor Emeritus at De Paul University M. Cherif Bassiouni, found wide-ranging and grave violations of prisoners’ human rights committed by government personnel. These include, but are not limited to, civilian deaths attributed to security forces, arbitrary detention, destruction and theft of property on arrest, prisoner injuries consistent with torture, and a deliberate practice of mistreatment by state agents. What is also notable about the BICI is that it does not call for the release of political prisoners.

Al-Khawaja, a pioneer of human rights work in Bahrain, is serving a life sentence alongside other notable dissidents for “plotting to overthrow the government.” A founding member of the prolific Bahrain Center for Human Rights, al-Khawaja worked most recently as a regional representative for Ireland-based Frontline Defenders and previously as a consultant for Amnesty International.

According to his daughter Zainab al-Khawaja, masked security personnel arrested her father on 8 April 2011 after attacking him and dragging his unconscious body out of her home. As described in the BICI report Case no. 8, Al Khawaja suffered physical abuse and sexual assault in prison, as well as threats of execution and harm to members of his family. He was due to be tried in a civilian court on 2 April, but reports now suggest that the trial has been postponed to 23 April.

As an individual case, al-Khawaja’s hunger strike has led to a resurgence of international media attention in Bahrain at a crucial time: the government is trying desperately to shift focus toward the upcoming Formula 1 Grand Prix in a bid to salvage its reputation. The media spotlight comes partly as a result of al-Khawaja’s public persona as a longtime and high-profile human rights defender, but also due to concerted campaigns on social media networks and an upsurge in street action. Protesters dispersed violently by state security forces last weekend chanted for his release. The majority of media coverage, however, lacks perspective, presenting the issue as one man on a hunger strike without due recognition of the background which led him to take this action. …more

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