UPDATE 1-Bahrain activist al-Khawaja to travel home, press for father's release

Reuters · 09/15/2023 10:30
UPDATE 1-Bahrain activist al-Khawaja to travel home, press for father's release

Adds government comment

By Aziz El Yaakoubi

- A daughter of prominent Bahraini rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja is planning to return to the Gulf state on Friday, risking her arrest as she presses for her father's release from prison, rights groups said.

Khawaja, also a Danish citizen, is a former president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and is serving a life sentence for his role in Bahrain's pro-democracy protests in 2011.

His daughter Maryam said she would travel to Bahrain because her father was denied access to urgent and critical medical treatment, part of the reason why he is on hunger strike.

"I know that going back means that I might end up spending the rest of my life in prison," she said in a video on social media.

"I am attempting to go back to try to raise pressure and attention around his case," added Khawaja, who lives in Denmark.

A group of activists said they would join her, including Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard and Front Line Defenders' Olive Moore, the two organisations told Reuters on Friday.

Asked whether there were any charges against Maryam Al-Khawaja, the Bahraini government said she was convicted after she "assaulted" two policewomen in 2014 and she " served or appealed her one year sentence".

"In Bahrain, as with any government with an independent judiciary, individuals who are convicted in a court of law are subject to legal proceedings and due process," a government spokesperson said in a statement.

On Wednesday, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja resumed his hunger strike after authorities did allow him to get to a scheduled medical appointment, his second daughter, Zainab, told Reuters.

His decision followed an announcement by rights groups that hundreds of other political prisoners had suspended hunger strikes as the government promised to improve prison conditions.

On Wednesday the government denied Khawaja was on hunger strike, adding he has "repeatedly and voluntarily declined to attend his regular medical appointments".

"Abdulhadi al-Khawaja's health is stable with serious concerns," it said.

The Sunni Muslim Al Khalifa dynasty has kept a lid on dissent since Riyadh sent troops to help it crush an "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011 by the mostly Shi'ite opposition. Bahrain accuses Shi'ite Iran of fomenting unrest, charges Teheran denies.

Tensions in Bahrain's prisons emerged as Washington and Manama signed a strategic security and economic agreement.

(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi Editing by William Maclean and Mark Potter)

((aziz.elyaakoubi@thomsonreuters.com; +966508650537; Reuters Messaging: aziz.elyaakoubi.reuters.com@reuters.))