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Bahraini activist's daughter on hunger strike for his release

By the CNN Wire Staff
Protesters take to the streets to protest against the government in Bahrain on March 11.
Protesters take to the streets to protest against the government in Bahrain on March 11.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Zainab Al-Khawaja says authorities detained both her father and her husband
  • Her father, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, is a prominent human rights activist
  • Human Rights Watch says four of 430 people arrested in recent weeks died in custody

(CNN) -- The daughter of a prominent Bahraini human rights activist is willing to starve to death if the nation's authorities do not return her father and her husband, both of whom were severely beaten and hauled away by security forces a week ago, she said.

Zainab Al-Khawaja said she is willing to die even though she has a 1-year-old daughter.

"If my father is going to be killed, I want to die as well," she told CNN's Amber Lyon in a recent interview. "We've always been taught by my father dying with dignity is better than living as slaves."

"I would rather die with dignity than live as a slave to the Al-Khalifa regime," the 27-year-old said.

Reporter detained, minded in Bahrain
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  • Bahrain

She was referring to Bahrain's royal family, which has ruled the country since the 18th century.

On April 9, at 3 a.m. local time, masked officers burst into Zainab Al-Khawaja's home and assaulted her father, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, and his son-in law, Mohammed Al-Masqati, according to family members and human rights activists.

Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja is a former president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. In February, he resigned from his position as director of the Middle East-North Africa region for the International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders' Front Line.

Zainab Al-Khawaja said the officers beat her father severely.

"They dragged him down the stairs, threw him on the ground, and four or five men were kicking him and punching him, and one of them had his hand on my father's throat the whole time," his daughter said. "And the last thing I heard my father say was that he couldn't breathe. He was gasping for air and saying he couldn't breathe."

Al-Khawaja lost consciousness, according to Front Line. Police took Al-Khawaja, Al-Masqati and other family members to an unknown location, the group said.

Human Rights Watch says Bahraini police forces have arrested more than 430 people in recent weeks, often violently and late at night.

Four have died while in custody in the past two weeks. Among them is Kareem Fakhrawi, a blogger and founder of an opposition newspaper.

Bahrain officials said Fakhrawi died of kidney failure. Human Rights Watch said photos taken of his body show "disturbing signs of torture."

The U.S. State Department has called for investigations into the deaths. Zainab Al-Khawaja said the American government must do much more.

"What's making it so much more difficult for us," Al-Khawaja said, "and the reason we have to suffer so much more is because the American administration is standing behind the dictator and giving him the green light to do whatever he wants with the people of Bahrain."

The U.S. government has been quick to denounce regimes in Egypt, Syria and Libya, however its tone toward Bahrain has been much more muted, critics say. Bahrain is the home port for the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet.

"All I want is for them (the U.S. government) to stop supporting the al-Khalifa regime who have proved now more than ever that they are corrupt, that they care only about their thrones that they are willing to kill and torture," Al-Khawaja said.

Asked why she would risk dying for her cause and leaving her daughter to be raised by someone else, Al-Khawaja replied, "if it was just about my daughter I would never do this. I'd rather spend every day of my life with her and see her grow up."

"On the other hand, I am not willing to stay silent and watch as they are torturing my other family members," Al-Khawaja said. "I must take a stand."

CNN's Amber Lyon contributed to this report.

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