The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) is deeply concerned about the deteriorating health of human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, BCHR’s former President, serving a life sentence in Jau prison since 2011 for his human rights activities. The co-founder of both BCHR and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) has been on a hunger strike since 12 April. His decision to go on a hunger strike was motivated by the inhumane treatment of detainees in Bahraini prisons and the continued harassment of human rights defenders in Bahrain. Al-Khawaja’s life is at risk, due to previous health issues and poor prison conditions.
On 26 April, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja said that he is willing to temporarily suspend the hunger strike if there are strong statements delivered at Bahrain’s Third Cycle of the UN Universal Periodic Review, which took place Monday 1 May.
According to his family’s testimony, Al-Khawaja initiated his hunger strike on 12 April. On his third day of the hunger strike, 14 April, Al-Khawaja was transferred to hospital due to low blood sugar levels. He has suffered from stomach ache and intense pain in his lower back. Additionally, Al-Khawaja has also experienced muscle spasms and has had trouble urinating.
The latest updates from Al-Khawaja suggest that he is still in a critical condition. On 18 April, he was informed that he would again be forced to wear shackles when going to the prison clinic. He hadn’t been shackled since the beginning of the hunger strike, but previously it had been a requirement for all medical visits. Al-Khawaja has refused to see a doctor if he must be shackled. His weight and condition are unknown currently, but he weighed 56 kg and had low blood pressure as of 17 April. Al-Khawaja feared he would lose consciousness and will be taken to the military hospital to be force fed. He has therefore started to drink few liquids, and his health has improved slightly.
In March, it was reported by his family that Al-Khawaja suffered from temporary vision loss. He also experienced headache behind his right eye. Based on the description of his symptoms, an ophthalmologist diagnosed it as Amaurosis fugax – a condition that could lead to permanent vision loss as well as cerebral strokes if he is not provided adequate treatment. At that time, Al-Khawaja was only allowed to see a doctor if he agreed to being shackled and a full strip search, which he refused to do.
The degrading and dehumanizing treatment of prisoners – a situation that has intensified following a crackdown on prisoners’ rights at Jau Prison in 2015 – violates human rights standards and the United Nations’ Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules). According to rule 1 of the Nelson Mandela Rules, “no prisoner shall be subjected to […] cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, for which no circumstances whatsoever may be invoked as a justification.”
Updated 5 May: On the 24th day, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja suspended his hunger strike following strong recommendations during Bahrain’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the United Nations. He said: “Due to the mentioning of the issues for which I began the hunger strike (the continuation of arbitrary arrests and the conditions in Jaw prison) in the Universal Periodic Review of Bahrain in Geneva, I have decided to suspend the hunger strike pending the implementation of the recommendations. I would also like to thank the Danish Foreign Ministry, the Danish Ambassador in Riyadh, and Mr. Rasmus of the Danish Embassy for their continued concern in regards to my health and wellbeing.”
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls on the government of Bahrain to:
- immediately and unconditionally release Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja;
- ensure that Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja is treated humanely and with dignity according to article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Bahrain has ratified, as well as the Nelson Mandela Rules; and
- end all reprisals against human rights defenders.