After 110 days, jailed human rights activist Abulhadi al-Khawaja has called off his hunger strike.
According to the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Al-Khawaja, who holds both Bahraini and Danish citizenship, decided to end his hunger strike Sunday night despite not achieving his main goal of “freedom or death”. He claims that the Bahraini authorities have been force-feeding him in prison since April 23, which he and his family equate with torture.
BCHR said that, despite deciding to eat again, al-Khawaja told his family that he still felt he had succeeded in shining a spotlight on human rights issues in Bahrain.
His wife, Khadija al-Mousawi, told DR News that ending the hunger strike should not be viewed as an admission of defeat.
“There were two goals for [the hunger strike]: the first one was to be free, and the second was to have a focus on Bahrain’s cases and detainees,” al-Mousawi said. “The second goal, he did reach.”
Al-Khawaja will now follow a medical regimen devised by doctors to return him to a normal diet. According to Jens Kondrup, a nutrition professor at Rigshospital, when the body has become accustomed to not receiving food, it starts to shut down and a return to normality must be taken very slowly.
Kondrup predicted that al-Khawaja would come out of his hunger strike without any permanent physical damage, particularly because he received liquids during the strike.
“[The liquids] have been able to keep his critical functions going,” Kondrup told Ritzau. “I don’t think he will have any permanent injury, but it will take at least a year’s time before he is his normal self again.”
Al-Khawaja, who became a Danish citizen while living in Copenhagen with his wife and daughters in the 1990s, has been imprisoned in Bahrain since June 2011. He was given a life sentence for protesting against the Bahraini regime.
Efforts by Denmark to secure his release have thus far been rebuked by the Bahraini authorities, but the Foreign Ministry has said that they are continuing to work on the case.
Last month, al-Khawaja won the right to a retrial in civil court. On May 22, he appeared before the court and denied all charges against him and testified to the treatment he has received in prison, which includes torture, violence and sexual abuse.
One of al-Khawaja's daughters, Zainab al-Khawaja, was released from a Bahraini jail on Tuesday. She was arrested last month for organising pro-democratic protests.
NOTE: This story was updated on Wednesday, May 30 at 9:42am to reflect that Zainab al-Khawaja was released from jail.