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Time running out for jailed human rights activist
UPDATE, APRIL 10, 1:00PM: At her weekly press conference today, PM Helle Thorning-Scmidt said that she has written a letter to both the king and the prime minister of Bahrain demanding the release of the imprisoned Danish citizen Abdulhadi al-Khawaja.
"Denmark demands that al-Khawaja be released," Thorning-Schmidt said. "We have worked intensely on that since he was arrested on April 8 of last year. We have made contact with the Bahraini authorities on many levels. I myself have also sent a letter to the king and Bahrain's prime minister about the case, in which I of course once again underscored Denmark's demand to release al-Khawaja."
ORIGINAL STORY, APRIL 9, 10:15AM: Despite what foreign minister Villy Søvndal characterised as the “largest Danish consular effort ever”, Bahrain has reportedly rejected a request to transfer jailed Danish human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja to Denmark.
The state-run Bahrain News Agency (BNA) reported on Sunday that Bahrain had formally rejected Søvndal’s request to have al-Khawaja, who holds dual Danish and Bahraini citizenship, extradited to Denmark.
“An official source in the Supreme Judiciary Council said that the Criminal Procedures Law stipulates the handing over of accused and convicted persons to foreign countries upon request under specific applicable conditions which should be satisfied and this does not cover the case of Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja,” a short report on BNA read.
Politiken newspaper, however, spoke with Foreign Ministry officials late on Sunday and they indicated that had not received a rejection of the request from Bahrain and are continuing in their efforts.
Al-Khawaja is serving a life sentence in Bahrain for demonstrating against the incumbent government and organising protests during the Arab Spring uprisings. He and eight others were sentenced last June on charges of terrorism and attempting to overthrow the government. It has been independently confirmed that al-Khawaja has been subjected to torture, violence and sexual abuse while jailed in Bahrain.
In protest of his sentence and treatment, al-Khawaja began a hunger strike on February 2. Now that it has lasted 60 days, his health has fallen drastically. As early as March 13, his lawyer, Mohammed al-Jishi, told Al Jazeera that “he can’t walk and even talking is hard.”
It was reported that al-Khawaja was transferred to a hospital last week on Friday due to kidney failure. His family members have indicated that he could die at any moment.
Despite his failing health, al-Khawaja has vowed to continue the hunger strike until he is either free or dead. Last week, the human rights activist sent a letter to his family, which read very much like a farewell message. His daughter, Zainab al-Khawaja, translated the letter and put it online.
“My dear and beloved family, from behind prison bars, I send to you my love and yearning,” the letter read. “From a free man, to a free family. These prison walls do not separate me from you, they bring us closer together ... We take our strength from beautiful memories.”
Danish officials have been working to secure al-Khawaja’s release for months, but time is quickly running out.
“Unfortunately there is not much time,” Ole Engberg Mikkelsen, a Foreign Ministry official, told Politiken on Sunday. “This is a case in which the clock is ticking. We are continuing our endeavours to convince Bahrain that it is in everyone’s interest that he is delivered [to Denmark].”
In February, al-Khawaja released a letter thanking Danish officials for their attempts at securing his release but encouraged them to do more.
“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.”
Other nations, including the United States, have recently become involved in the efforts to free al-Khawaja.
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 works to improve human rights conditions in Bahrain.
He returned to Bahrain in 2001, and maintains that he was repeatedly arrested, beaten during peaceful protests, subjected to travel bans and had his character assassinated in the media.
Al-Khawaja’s daughters, Zainab and Maryam, have been vocal in advocating for their father’s release. Zainab al-Khawaja was herself arrested in Bahrain’s capital, Manama, last week on Thursday during a demonstration against her father’s imprisonment. She was released on Saturday. Politiken reported that al-Khawaja’s family members tried to visit him in the hospital on Sunday but were denied entry. His daughters continue to give ongoing updates on their father’s condition on Twitter, at @maryamalkhawaja and @angryarabiya.