A Danish human rights activist has appealed to Danish and European politicians to do more to secure his release from a Bahraini jail where his serving a life sentence.
Albdulhadi Al-Khawaja is currently on a hunger strike and wrote an open letter last week to Danish foreign minister Villy Søvndal urging an investigation into the legal basis of his detention.
“I am entitled to protection by EU member states in accordance with the EU guidelines on the protection of human rights defenders around the world,” Al-Khawaja wrote. “I would suggest that the Danish authorities kindly put more efforts, in coordination with other EU-state members, to take whatever possible actions […] to address my case and the cases of other detained activists.”
Al-Khawaja was arrested on April 8 of last year for his role in protests against the Bahraini government, which were launched as part of the wider Arab Spring movement in the region.
He said he was severely beaten following his arrest, held in solitary confinement and tortured for two months before being tried on charges of instigating hatred toward, and attempting to overthrow, the regime. His sentence was life in prison.
Al-Khawaja was granted asylum in Denmark after fleeing Bahrain in 1989. While living in Copenhagen with his wife and daughters, Al-Khawaja took on Danish citizenship and established the Bahrain Human Rights Organisation, which he states helped improve human rights conditions in Bahrain.
He returned to Bahrain in 2001, and maintains that he was repeatedly arrested, beaten during peaceful protests, subjectted to travel bans and the victim of character assassination in the media.
Despite the troubles he has faced promoting human rights, Al-Khawaja wrote in his open letter that he has no regrets.
“It is a serious business to address issues such as corruption, inequality, and discrimination in order to promote the interests of members of the ruling family, and documenting arbitrary detention and torture by the brutal national security apparatus,” he wrote.
Al-Khawaja established the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and in 2008 became a regional representative for Ireland-based human rights organisation Front Line Defenders.
Danish diplomats were present in the court when Al-Khawaja was sentenced and have kept communication open between him and his family. He expressed gratitude for this support but stated that he hopes to soon be released in order to continue his work.
“I thank you again and [extend] my warm greetings to all Danish citizens. I hope that the good efforts including yours would soon secure my release so I can join my family and friends and resume my work, which this time will be as the director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights that has recently started its work.”
Read the full letter here.