Bahraini takes risk going to Manama to save hunger striking father
Maryam al-Khawaja, whose father is a political prisoner on hunger strike in Bahrain, risks going to prison, yet insists on going to Manama to raise awareness about her father.
Maryam al-Khawaja, a Bahraini human rights activist, and the daughter of a Bahraini political prisoner, is set to fly to Manama, despite the risk of detention she faces, to raise awareness about Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja who has been taking part in an ongoing mass hunger strike of about 800 prisoners at the Jau Prison.
Al-Khawaja, the 62-year-old father, was sentenced to life in prison back in 2011 for having led pro-democracy protests across the country.
Two days into his hunger strike, Al-Khawaja suffered from cardiac arrhythmia and was brought to the intensive care unit (ICU) of a military hospital. After receiving necessary medical treatment, his heartbeat stabilized, and he was returned to prison custody. Soon after, he continued his strike.
"Every day that passes, I am worried that I will receive a phone call that my father has died in prison," Al-Khawaja, the daughter, said, adding that "this is my last-resort attempt at saving his life, and I also want to raise attention on over 800 people on hunger strike in Bahrain right now."
In 2014, Al-Khawaja was sentenced to one year in prison, in absentia, after the Bahraini police claimed she had assaulted them, while al-Khawaja claims they were the ones who assaulted her and then they framed her.
Human rights defenders can be considered terrorists
Al-Khawaja also is faced with four counts of insulting the Bahraini monarch, each carrying a potential seven-year sentence. As such, there is a great chance that Al-Khawaja will face imprisonment herself if she lands in Bahrain.
According to her, “as far as I know, there’s also been a charge that’s been filed under the terrorism law against me which is vaguely defined, which means that even the work of a human rights defender can be considered terrorism."
The activist has a group of people who have pledged to travel with her, given the very high risk that she will be arrested as soon as she lands in Bahrain.
“To tell the truth, I’m terrified about going back,” she said. “I definitely don’t want to be back in prison. I’ve experienced prison. I’ve experienced going on hunger strike. I know what that’s like.”
Bahraini political prisoners continue their hunger strike
Bahraini authorities have reportedly agreed to grant political prisoners some basic rights, including extended visiting hours, a move that comes as a result of one of the largest hunger strikes in the country's history which was initiated on August 7.
Despite these developments, the strike, which has involved around 800 political prisoners, many of whom are dissidents detained during a 2011 crackdown on the opposition's protests, continues.
The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) has criticized the authorities for their belated response, asserting that the hunger strike will persist until the government addresses prisoners' concerns genuinely and earnestly.
The strikers are advocating for improved medical attention, access to education, and the ability to pray together at a prison mosque.
The situation has prompted calls for international support from human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch, particularly given the case of 62-year-old Bahraini-Danish human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who joined the hunger strike and was subsequently hospitalized.