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Bahrain hunger striker decries detention

2012-05-22 19:22

Manama - Bahraini activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja described his imprisonment as a "crime" on Tuesday as he attended his trial for the first time since launching a hunger strike in February, arriving in a wheelchair.

"The continuation of my arrest is a crime," Khawaja, wearing a white shirt and black trousers, told the appeals court. "Stop this sham trial."

"There is no legal excuse for my continued detention," he said.

The prominent activist, who is being retried in a civil court after a military tribunal had sentenced him to life in prison, looked frail and weak but moved his chair forward without medical assistance. A doctor and three nurses accompanied him.

Khawaja, who has dual Bahraini and Danish nationalities, was convicted last June, along with 20 other activists, of plotting to overthrow the government and has been on a hunger strike since 8 February.

"For more than 100 days I have been on hunger strike and am ready to sacrifice my life to demand freedom," Khawaja told the court.

Jailed for life

The activist, who made a few small steps towards the judge before returning to his wheelchair, said he had been "force-fed" in prison.

Khawaja, arrested in April last year, became a symbol of Bahrain's popular uprising that began in February 2011.

His lawyer, Mohammed al-Jishi, said last week after meeting with him at Jaw prison south of Manama that "his health has slightly improved because he was force-fed".

Seven activists, including Khawaja, were jailed for life, while 14 others were sentenced to between two and 15 years in prison.

Of these, one has since been freed while 12 are being retried along with Khawaja and were present in the court. Seven remain at large.

Abdulwahab Hussein, who leads the Shi'ite Wafa Islamic Movement and was among those jailed for life, reiterated at the court his demand for "a republic in Bahrain".

Humanitarian

Tuesday's hearing was attended by Western diplomats and family members of the detainees. The next hearing was set for 29 May.

Bahrain has repeatedly come under pressure from rights groups as well as Western governments to release Khawaja.

The United Nations on Monday urged Bahrain to release its political prisoners, including prominent rights activist Nabeel Rajab who is charged with tweeting insults against the government, as well as Khawaja.

At the meeting in Geneva of the UN Human Rights Council, France requested a "humanitarian response" for the dissident and Denmark said he should be released for treatment.

London-based rights group Amnesty International says 60 people have been killed since the uprising began in mid-February last year.