After several unsuccessful appeals to prison administration officials for adequate medical assistance, leading Bahraini human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja has publically announced that he has gone on hunger strike in protest of his continued arbitrary detention and mistreatment while in prison. Al-Khawaja, who began the water-only hunger strike on 2 March 2015, is suffering from serious health issues and is at severe risk of further health complications.
“He sounded weak and exhausted on the phone to an extent that we could tell how sick he was, but this won’t stop him from battling for his freedom and the freedom of all human rights defenders in Bahrain,” said his daughter Maryam Al-Khawaja, Co-Director of at the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR).
Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, the Co-founder of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), was sentenced to life in prison in June 2011 for peaceful human rights activities The undersigned organizations and individuals express their grave concern about the continued mistreatment of Al-Khawaja while in detention and call on the Government of Bahrain to immediately and unconditionally address Al-Khawaja’s legitimate demands.
On 23 February 2015, Al-Khawaja delivered a letter to the head of Jaw prison informing the authorities that he would be starting a hunger strike on 2 March 2015 including the demands listed below.
Specific demands related to the hunger strike:
1. Hand over a copy of his medical file to his family or his lawyer to get a second opinion on a much-needed operation. This request was previously made on 2 January 2015.
2. Allow visitation rights to his son-in-law via the procedure of making special requests, according to standard procedures.
3. Allow flexibility in the number of people permitted during family visits as it used to be 10 but had been reduced to six.
4. Make available the prison law list to make clear what rights and obligations prisoners have.
5. Allow families to bring magazines to prisoners, which used to be allowed but have been stopped since three weeks ago.
6. Make available Al-Wasat and Al-Watan newspapers with the rest of newspapers available.
7. Allow families to bring a radio or make it available at the prison store as per the decision that was made five months ago but not implemented after the banning of MP3 players.
8. Set up a mechanism for follow up in regards to the other issues related to Building 7 at Jaw prison.
1. Protest about continued arbitrary arrests and lack of investigation into torture.
2. Protest against the generally bad situation in the prison, especially in the recent period.
On 4 September 2012, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a decision on Al-Khawaja's case, defining it as "arbitrary"and calling for his immediate release. This is at least the fourth time Al-Khawaja has gone on a water-only hunger strike, putting him at serious risk of cardiac arrest or slipping into a coma. During the last phone call he made to his family on 14 March, Al-Khawaja's blood sugar was 2.5, his blood pressure was 90/60, his weight had gone down 10 kilos to 53, ketone level was 2+, and he sounded exhausted and weak on the phone. He also informed his family that the doctors conveyed a threat from officers that if his health further deteriorates, he will be forcibly moved and force fed, an action that is considered torture by the United Nations experts.
According to a local internal medicine specialist, “When fat stocks are used up after prolonged or recurrent periods of hunger strikes, a catastrophic protein catabolism will develop. Main somatic complications ensuing from these physiopathological mechanisms are dehydration, shock, renal failure, stroke, hypoglycemic coma, metabolic disturbances (arrhythmias), vitamin deficiencies (Gayet-Wernicke), peptic ulcers and nephrolithiasis, without forgetting the major risks associated with re-nutrition.”
She warned, “Serious complications and death occur especially from the fortieth day on, but early and unexpected complications are possible. Close medical monitoring is recommended after 10% of weight loss in lean healthy individuals. Serious medical problems begin at a loss of approximately 18% from initial body weight. The risk of neurological signs by thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency is common in cases of fasting with exclusive intake of sugar and liquids.” Those who go on hunger strike are prone to have multiple deficiencies including iron deficiency, Vitamin b12 and Folate deficiency which will make them at greater risk of developing anemia.
Al-Khawaja’s family members noticed that he was very pale, which could be secondary to chronic anemia due to his recurrent hunger strikes with underlying malnutrition conditions. Chronic anemia especially in cases of hunger strike with Folate or B12 and other mineral deficiencies will make persons undergoing hunger strikes prone to have cardiac failure with high risk of arrhythmia.
We the undersigned organisations and individuals call on the Government of Bahrain to immediately and unconditionally release Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who has been imprisoned solely for practicing his right to free expression and as a result of his human rights work. We also call on the authorities in Bahrain to respond to Al-Khawaja's demands, and to guarantee better prison conditions for all prisoners in Bahrain.
Avocats Sans Frontier (ASF)
Amman Center for Human Rights Studies
Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)
Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
Bahrain Rehabilitation and Anti-Violence Organization (BRAVO)
Bahrain Salam for Human Rights
Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR)
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Damien McCormack – Irish Surgeon and activist
European Bahraini Organization for Human Rights (EBOHR)
Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR)
Index on Censorship
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
International Service for Human Rights
Khiam Center for Rehabilitation
Lawyer’s Rights Watch Canada
Lord Eric Avebury – Vice-Chair, Parliamentary Human Rights Group UK
MENA Monitoring Group
No Peace Without Justice
The International Center for Supporting Rights and Freedoms
Yemen Organization for Defending Rights and Democratic Freedoms