International push for the release of Al-Khawaja continues

As human rights defender and long-time IMS-partner Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja continues his hunger strike, the international pressure for his release increases considerably

Al-Khawaja who is a Danish citizen has been on hunger strike since 8 February. Over the past few days he has reached a critical phase where his life is at stake, says his family.

Danish officials demand release

The past few days have seen a considerable increase in diplomatic pressure to have Al-Khawaja released and brought to Denmark to receive medical treatment.

“Denmark demands the release of Danish-Bahraini citizen and human rights defender, Al-Khawaja”, wrote Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt in a letter last week to Bahraini king, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

Previous efforts also include visits to Al-Khawaja from the Danish Ambassador in Saudi Arabia, Christian Kønigsfeldt who also covers Bahrain and meetings between the Danish Foreign Minister Villy Søvndahl and the Bahraini Foreign Minister.

Mounting international pressure

On Monday 9 April the United States called on Bahrain to find a “humanitarian solution” to the situation.

“We are very worried about Al-Khawaja, especially considering his health”, said Victoria Nuland, spokesperson from the US State Department, adding that they were in close contact with the Bahraini authorities.

The European Union and the United Nations have also joined the range of international actors who call for Al-Khawaja’s release before his health deteriorates further.

“We strongly urge the Bahraini authorities to immediately find a humanitarian solution, so that Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja may be transferred to Denmark”, said Michael Mann spokesperson for Catherine Ashton, the EU’s High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy

According to the Associated Press (AP), UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky said that “in cases where there is a hunger strike the health and well-being of the person should be the foremost concern.” Nesirky added that Ban hopes Denmark’s offer “would be duly considered on humanitarian grounds.”

A complex matter

Describing how the ‘quiet diplomacy has failed’ in the case of Al-Khawaja’s release, Danish daily Politiken commented on Tuesday 10 April how the case ‘pits economic and strategic interests against political values’, highlighting that the United States’ and the West’s complex relationship with Bahrain is tied to military and oil-related factors.

Extending into the world of sports, Al-Khawaja’s case may also have consequences for the popular car race Formula 1. According to British paper The Times, the race which is planned to take place in Bahrain’s capital Manama on 22 April, could potentially be cancelled or postponed.

Al-Khawaja is protesting against a lifetime sentence handed down to him in September 2011, after he was accused of “plotting to overthrow the regime”. During his imprisonment he has also been subjected to torture.

Together with 13 other human rights activists, Al-Khawaja had his case taken to the Court of Cassation on Monday 2 April, where lawyers requested that they be released pending court decision. Refusing the request, the court announced that the decision will be read on the 23rd of April. By then Al-Khawaja may no longer be alive says his family.

Al-Khawaja is a longtime IMS-partner and led the IMS-supported Arab Working Group’s monitoring of the Bahraini media’s coverage of the country’s elections in October 2010.