[JURIST] Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] on Friday urged [press release] the Bahraini government to release Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment [JURIST report; BBC report] last year by a military court, so that he does not die as a result of his 50 day hunger strike. Al-Khawaja, a Danish citizen, former protection coordinator with Front Line Defenders [advocacy website] and leading Bahraini human rights defender, was arrested for leading protests against the Bahraini government [JURIST news archive]. AI said that Al-Khawaja was sentenced without a fair trial and was subject to torture and ill-treatment [JURIST report] while in custody. However, no investigation to verify such ill-treatment has been initiated. The organization stressed that Al-Khawaja is a “prisoner of conscience” who led a peaceful demonstration which did not advocate violence against the government. Considering this contention and Bahrain’s promise to release those who were jailed during the revolt, AI called on the government to release Al-Khawaja immediately:
Bahrain must ensure that Al-Khawaja is released immediately and unconditionally. The Bahraini authorities have made pledges that they would release people who were imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of expression, but the continued imprisonment of Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja demonstrates that they are not serious about fulfilling such promises.
Al-Khawaja began his hunger strike on February 8 and several parties, including Danish diplomats, confirmed his deteriorating health. His sentence, which was affirmed in September by the National Safety Court of Appeal, also a military court, is now on appeal and a hearing before the Court of Cassation will take place on April 2.
The Bahraini government has been subject to numerous criticisms for its use of excessive force against citizen protesters. In early March, based on a report of excessive force by Bahraini security forces, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] called on the government [JURIST report] to investigate the allegations. During that same month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] released a report, similar to a report [JURIST report] released in November by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) [official website] about human rights violations against demonstrators, alleging that Bahrain is convicting hundreds of opposition activists [JURIST report] in unfair and politically motivated trials. In February, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] also urged the Bahraini government to respect protesters’ rights [JURIST report] and stressed that excessive use of force by the government against civilian demonstrators is strictly forbidden in international law. Pillay made a similar call to the government in December when she said that protesters who were detained during peaceful protests should be released [JURIST report].