NGOs Express Concerns for the Life of Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Restrictions of Religious Freedom
#Bahrain: I share the concern of @UNHumanRights about the continued prisoner hunger strike in Bahrain, and the humanitarian situation of all involved, including Abdul-Hadi Al Khawaja whose case I have followed for many years https://t.co/Rs6XfB3o76— Eamon Gilmore (@EamonGilmore) August 30, 2023
On 9th August 2023, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, a 62-year-old prominent Bahraini-Danish human rights defender initiated a hunger strike alongside hundreds of other inmates demanding better conditions in the Jau Rehabilitation and Reform Centre. Two days later, on 11th August, he was rushed to the intensive care unit of a Bahraini military hospital with serious cardiac problems. The attending doctor stressed the imminent danger to Al-Khawaja’s life and administered an intravenous injection until his heart rate stabilised. Al-Khawaja was then returned to prison. He then joined the mass hunger strike being undertaken by over 700 people in Jau Prison. He continues to require urgent and adequate medical care, which prison authorities are failing to provide.
On 16th August 2023, over a dozen NGOs wrote to the US Biden Administration expressing urgent concern for the life of Al-Khawaja who is currently on a hunger strike to protest his unjust imprisonment and the continued denial of urgent medical care he has been subjected to while detained. As his health deteriorates, the NGOs urged the US Government to press the Bahraini authorities for his immediate and unconditional release.
On 18th August 2023, many of the same NGOs wrote to the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary requesting that he “press the Bahraini authorities to unconditionally release all those sentenced for their political beliefs on abusive charges or after unfair trials, including human rights defenders Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Abduljalil Al-Singace, and, in the interim, to ensure all prisoners have immediate access to medical care and humane prison conditions.” The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), which spoke with individuals detained at the prison and some of their family members, “has found that political prisoners in Jau Prison are forced to endure extremely harsh conditions, including spending 23 hours each day in their cells.”
In other developments, on 7th July 2023, Human Rights Watch reported that Bahraini authorities blocked Shi’a worshippers from attending Friday prayers at Imam Al-Sadeq Mosque, Bahrain’s largest Shi’a Mosque, on two Fridays in June. The access restrictions followed the Bahraini authorities’ brief detention of a prominent Shi’a cleric, Sheikh Mohammad Sanqoor, who often gave sermons at Imam al-Sadeq Mosque, as well as Saudi Arabia’s execution of two Shi’a Bahrainis, which sparked protests in Bahrain. According to Human Rights Watch, these restrictions form part of a longstanding culture of the Bahraini Government discriminating against its Shi’a majority population, including by targeting Shi’a clerics and arresting and prosecuting human rights defenders from Shi’a backgrounds, including Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja in 2011. In 2016, a group of UN experts expressed concern that members of the Shia community were “clearly being targeted on the basis of their religion.”