Danish citizen Abdulhadi al-Khawaja was sentenced to life in prison in Bahrain last week for protesting against the Bahraini regime.
The 50-year-old al-Khawaja is a Bahrain-born human rights activist and a naturalised Danish citizen. He was granted political asylum in Denmark in 1991 and helped establish the Bahrain Human Rights Organisation (BHRO).
He and 21 others have been in custody in Bahrain since April 8 when they were arrested on charges of terrorism.
Human rights organisations Front Line and Amnesty International, as well as al-Khawaja’s family, claim however that he and the others were arrested for taking part in pro-democracy demonstrations.
According to Front Line, al-Khawaja has been tortured and sexually assaulted in the Bahraini prison.
After his conviction and sentencing on Wednesday last week, al-Khawaja told the court that the Bahraini people would continue to fight against the country’s authoritarian regime. He was then hit by court officers and dragged from the room, reports public broadcaster DR.
“It is a typical reaction for an authoritarian regime. They suppress everybody who criticises the establishment,” al-Khawaja’s daughter Maryam al-Khawaja said.
Al-Khawaja’s other daughter Zainab, who was in the courtroom for the hearing, protested when the judgment was announced and she was also dragged out of the courtroom and arrested afterwards, according to her sister. Zainab was, however, released two hours later.
Danish authorities have not been allowed access to al-Khawaja, the foreign minister Lene Espersen said on Wednesday.
“I am extremely unhappy that the promise I got from Bahrain’s foreign affairs minister, that we could get access to him in prison, still hasn’t been honoured.”
Since then the Foreign Ministry has sent Bahrain a letter demanding personal access to al-Khawaja and a seat at a new hearing, reports Berlingske newspaper.
Nevertheless, the Danish government’s right by international law to visit al-Khawaja is not entirely straightforward, as he has dual citizenship with Bahrain, as well as Denmark, and has been living in Bahrain since 2001.
Of the other activists who were arrested along with al-Khawaja, seven others were given life sentences, while 13 were given sentences of between two and 15 years.
Since the beginning of the year, Bahrain’s Shia Muslim majority has been protesting against the minority Sunni Muslim regime and King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa and demanding democratic reform. The regime has responded with violent crackdowns.