Bahraini human rights activist Abdulhadi AlKhawaja is now entering the 58th day of his hunger strike, having spent his 51st birthday yesterday in a prison clinic.
His lawyer has tweeted a picture of him in his weak and critical state, a far cry from the smiling and lively man that he once was, even though his principles remain unchanged. Mary Lawlor, executive director of Front Line Defenders, said that the activist is “at serious risk of imminent organ failure” after returning from a trip to Bahrain this week. She also reported that he has “shed 25 per cent of his body weight.” On 4 April he was transferred to a prison clinic for observation. Despite official documentation of his torture in prison and several calls for his release, Alkhawaja still remains imprisoned, serving a life sentence handed for peacefully protesting at Pearl Roundabout last year.
Alkhawaja’s daughters Zainab and Maryam credit their father for their commitment to human rights and peaceful tactics, and have inherited his passion and determination in speaking out against human rights violations in Bahrain. Both women have been careful to avoid focusing attention on a single individual, even as their father’s condition has worsened. They have recently decided to speak about their own family for a change, as his state is leading many to believe that Alkhawaja nearing the end of his life.
Maryam, who also serves as the Head of Foreign Relations for the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, wrote on Thursday that she finds it “difficult to remain impartial” and avoid focusing on more personal causes, but continues to persevere, fearing the moment when she will receive a phone call telling her her father is dead. Zainab recently wrote a poem about her father entitled, “The sultan digs my father’s grave,” in which she grimly describes watching her father dying. Despite feeling despair, she describes her father as being “tranquil” and pushing her to remain committed to fighting for human rights.
Several international human rights organisations have pushed on the Bahraini government to release the activist, who is also a Danish citizen. Danish Foreign Minister Villy Soevndal called for his release or retrial by a civilian court back in March, yet such calls are still ignored.
AlKhawaja has become a symbol of a non-violent movement in the tiny country, and his death could solidify the already mounting disillusionment within Bahrain’s opposition. The country’s largest opposition group, Al-Wefaq, released a statement earlier this week condemning the activist’s continued detention, warning that his worsening condition would only inflame tensions and that “the regime is responsible for the consequences.” Lawlor, of Front Line Defenders, also warned of the grave consequences of Alkhawaja’s death in prison, stating that it would only “cause a great deal more unrest.”
What little faith there was in the government’s commitment to reform has been lost in many ways, and AlKhawaja’s release would only confirm that the royal family’s promises to carry out the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry report served as nothing more than an elaborate exercise in public relations — rather than a commitment to human rights. AlKhawaja’s death would only ensure a deeper divide in an already polarised debate.