Activist in fifth week of hunger strike in Bahrain jail

Amnesty International is calling on the foreign minister to meet the Bahraini king in order to secure the release of a jailed Danish human rights activist

Concern is mounting for the health of Danish human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who has been on hunger strike for 40 days in a Bahraini jail in protest over the life sentence he was handed last summer for his role in organising protests during the Arab Spring uprisings.

Al-Khawaja was granted Danish citizenship in the 1990s after being granted asylum because he faced persecution for his human rights work in Bahrain. He returned to Bahrain in 2001 to continue his work but was arrested last April and sentenced in a military court in June.

Al-Khawaja started his hunger strike on February 2 and, according to his daughter Maryam al-Khawaja, is now so weak he cannot stand when saying his prayers. Al Jazeera also reports that he has lost 14 kilograms and has started to refuse medical examinations and water.

"His health is not good. He can't walk and even talking is hard," his lawyer, Mohammed alal-Jishi told Al Jazeera after visiting him last Tuesday. "He's tired. He's not able to stand up. He needs somebody to help him."

In a letter released in February, al-Khawaja thanked the efforts of Danish diplomats in attempting to secure his release but plead for more to be done. With al-Khawaja's condition deteriorating, human rights organisation Amnesty International is now demanding that the foreign minister, Villy Søvndal, seek an audience with Bahrain’s king, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

“We believe that the Foreign Ministry has done quite a lot to make a breakthrough in this case, but after a 40-day hunger strike his life is at stake, so we need to get through to Bahrain soon,” Ole Hoff Lund, of Amnesty International Denmark, told The Copenhagen Post. “The Foreign Ministry believes in a breakthrough, but time is running out.”

An independent report published last November detailed the abuse that al-Khawaja has faced in the Bahraini jail, including torture and sexual abuse, leading Søvndal to publicly castigate the Bahraini authorities.

But the Bahraini authorities seem to have taken little notice of the calls from the foreign minister and have yet to set a date for al-Khawaja’s appeal at the country's highest court.

Eight other people were also sentenced to life sentences last June along with al-Khawaja on charges of terrorism and attempting to overthrow the government. Several medical professionals were also arrested and given long sentences for helping treat protestors injured during violent clashes with police during protests last spring.