The Bahraini authorities have been accused of “toying with the life” of prominent activist Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who has been on hunger strike in prison for 75 days.
Amnesty International made the comments yesterday evening (23 April), in response to the postponement of his appeal trial, along with those of thirteen other jailed activists.
In a hearing yesterday lasting just a few minutes, the Court of Cassation in Manama postponed the appeal until 30 April, apparently without giving any reason for the decision. This is the second postponement since the court started considering the case on 2 April.
The postponement comes after a protester died over the weekend during mass street demonstrations as the island kingdom hosted the Formula 1 Grand Prix. An investigation into his death has been opened.
Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, 52, is serving a life sentence for his role in anti-government protests last year. Amnesty report that when his family last spoke to him on Sunday night he told them he is happy with his decision to remain on hunger strike and if it kills him he “will at least be free”.
The activist has said he intends to continue his hunger strike until he is released, yet no prospect of release is expected before 30 April, further heightening concerns for his life.
During yesterday’s hearing the court was fenced off and surrounded by security officials, and each defendant could only have their lawyers and one family member present. None of the fourteen defendants were in the court room.
Meanwhile, the hunger striker’s daughter, Zainab Al-Khawaja, was arrested on Saturday night (21 April) during a protest at her father’s ongoing imprisonment.
She has been charged with disrupting traffic and insulting an officer and remains in detention. She has been able to speak to her family while in detention but the phone call was limited to one minute.
Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and the thirteen other defendants were described as “prisoners of conscience” by Amnesty, who yesterday repeated their insistence that they had been “held solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression amid anti-government protests last year”.
Amnesty’s Hasiba Hadj Sahraoui said, “The Grand Prix has come and gone but for the people of Bahrain the media spotlight has moved on while Bahrain’s authorities have yet to turn the corner on the human rights situation in the country.”