Imprisoned Bahraini activist Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja begins hunger strike

Wednesday, March 18, 2015
His Excellency Shaikh Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Khalifa Ambassador of Bahrain to Washington, D.C. Bahrain Embassy-Washington, D.C. 3502 International Drive NW Washington, D.C. 20008 USA Dear Ambassador, I am writing on behalf of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), a non-profit, non-governmental organization that works to promote and protect press freedom and freedom of expression around the world. CJFE adds its voice to over 25 organizations calling on the government of Bahrain to release human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, and to guarantee humane conditions to all prisoners in Bahrain. Al-Khawaja has announced publicly that he began a water-only hunger strike on 2 March 2015 in protest of his continued arbitrary detention and mistreatment while in prison, despite the fact that he 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. CJFE and 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. He included 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 has 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.
General demands:
  • 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.

Background Information:

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 strikes 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 organizations 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. We thank you for your attention and I look forward to your reply. Yours Sincerely, Arnold Amber, CJFE President Signed:
  • 1. Avocats Sans Frontier (ASF)
  • 2. Amman Center for Human Rights Studies
  • 3. Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
  • 4. Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
  • 5. Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)
  • 6. Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
  • 7. Bahrain Rehabilitation and Anti-Violence Organization (BRAVO)
  • 8. Bahrain Salam for Human Rights
  • 9. Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR)
  • 10. Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)
  • 11. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  • 12. Damien McCormack – Irish Surgeon and activist
  • 13. European Bahraini Organization for Human Rights (EBOHR)
  • 14. Freedom House
  • 15. Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR)
  • 16. Index on Censorship
  • 17. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  • 18. International Service for Human Rights
  • 19. Khiam Center for Rehabilitation
  • 20. Lawyer’s Rights Watch Canada
  • 21. Lord Eric Avebury – Vice-Chair, Parliamentary Human Rights Group UK
  • 22. MENA Monitoring Group
  • 23. No Peace Without Justice
  • 24. PEN International
  • 25. Sentinel Defenders
  • 26. The International Center for Supporting Rights and Freedoms
  • 27. Yemen Organization for Defending Rights and Democratic Freedoms
Cc: Mr. Tom MacDonald, Ambassador of Canada to Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Bahrain and Oman The Honourable Rob Nicholson, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs

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