Al-Khawaja’s life sentence is upheld by Bahrain court

Foreign minister calls decision by court to uphold conviction against Danish citizen “very disappointing”

The lifetime sentence of Danish-Bahraini human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja has been upheld by a Bahraini court, his daughter Maryam al-Khawaja announced via Twitter this morning.

Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who holds dual Danish and Bahraini citizenship, has been jailed in Bahrain since June 2011 on charges of plotting against the Bahraini state. His high-profile hunger strike, which lasted 110 days, led the Danish Foreign Ministry to engage in what Villy Søvndal (Socialistisk Folkeparti), the foreign minister, characterised as “the largest Danish consular effort ever” to have him released.

Bahraini officials, however, have rebuked Denmark’s efforts, which included a personal appeal from PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt (Socialdemokraterne). Al-Khawaja claimed that he was drugged and force-fed while on hunger strike, an action he and his family equated with torture.

In April, al-Khawaja was granted a retrial on his charges in civil court.

According to his daughter, the Bahraini officials today upheld the conviction of the ‘Bahrain Thirteen’, a group of opposition leaders and activists that includes al-Khawaja.

“Verdict does not come as a shock, with no international consequences [and] accountability for [Bahrain] regime, they have no incentive to change,” Maryam al-Khawaja wrote on Twitter.

In a statement, Søvndal condemned the decision.

“I consider the rulings in Bahrain, including for the Danish citizen Abdulhadi al-Khawaja to be very disappointing,” Søvndal said. “Especially considering that in the spring  the UN, EU and a large number of countries together with Denmark encouraged a release. It is important that the international community maintains that Bahrain must respect fundamental human rights.”

Amnesty Danmark also criticised the decision, calling it "a human rights scandal".

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.

In addition to the force-feeding charges, al-Khawaja has said that he has been subjected to torture, violence and sexual abuse while jailed in Bahrain.

The Foreign Ministry said it was unknown whether al-Khawaja would appeal against the decision, while Al Jazeera reported that there would be an appeal.




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