Rights group calls on Bahrain to release activist on hunger strike

Story highlights

  • Amnesty International says it fears that Abdulhadi al-Khawaja is "at risk of death"
  • He and 7 others were found guilty of royal family overthrow plot, sentenced to life in prison
  • Amnesty: Al-Khawaja "detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression"
  • Al-Khawaja reportedly has not eaten for more than seven weeks and has lost 35 pounds
Amnesty International is calling on Bahraini authorities to release a leading human rights activist from prison, amid fears that he is "at risk of death after 50 days on a hunger strike."
Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, one of Bahrain's most prominent rights activists, was arrested in April of last year for his role in the anti-government demonstrations that swept through his country in February and March.
In June, al-Khawaja and seven other Shiite opposition activists were found guilty of plotting to overthrow the country's Sunni royal family. They were sentenced to life in prison.
"Bahrain must ensure that al-Khawaja is released immediately and unconditionally," Phillip Luther, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa director, said in a statement the group released Friday.
"The Bahraini authorities have made pledges that they would release people who were imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of expression," Luther said, "but the continued imprisonment of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja demonstrates that they are not serious about fulfilling such promises."
The rights group considers al-Khawaja a "prisoner of conscience, detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression," and says he began his hunger strike in February to protest his sentence.
Amnesty International says al-Khawaja has not eaten for more than seven weeks and has reduced his intake of glucose and minerals. According to his lawyer, in that time, he has lost 16 kilograms (35 pounds), the rights group says.
Last week, the United Nations issued a statement expressing concern about "the health of human rights defenders who are on hunger strike in protest against their imprisonment for participating in last year's mass demonstrations."