Bahrain Activist’s Hunger Strike Belies Image of Calm Ahead of F1 Race

Two weeks before Bahrain is scheduled to hold a prestigious international motor race, the kingdom’s attempts to project an image of calm were shattered on Friday when the police fired tear gas at thousands of protesters in the capital, Manama. As The Associated Press reports, the security forces dispersed marchers demanding the release of a leading rights activist, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who has been on hunger strike for 58 days.

The Bahrain Grand Prix Formula One race, which was canceled last year amid concerns about a crackdown on dissent, is supposed to begin on April 20, under the banner, “Unified: One Nation in Celebration."

Mr. Khawaja, the jailed founder of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, was one of eight opposition leaders sentenced to life in prison by a special security court for “plotting to topple the government" of the kingdom through pro-democracy demonstrations.

The activist’s lawyer told Reuters that his client was moved to a military hospital and fed intravenously on Friday after his health deteriorated sharply.

Late Thursday, Mr. Khawaja’s daughter, Zainab, was arrested outside the interior ministry clinic where he was being held. Several brief video clips shot surreptitiously by activists driving past the ministry building captured what they said was Ms. Khawaja’s voice, as she shouted “baba" — Arabic for “papa" — to her father inside.

An interior ministry statement claimed that Ms. Khawaja had “attacked a public employee" after being warned to leave the area.

Before her arrest on Thursday, Ms. Khawaja posted a new photograph of her father taken by his lawyer on the @AngryArabiya Twitter feed she has used to document the protest movement since it began last year.

Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, the jailed founder of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, on Thursday, day 57 of his hunger strike. In an interview with The Lede in December, Ms. Khawaja described her determination to continue protesting for democracy in the kingdom despite the risks to herself and her family.

According to Mr. Khawaja’s family, an account of his torture at the hands of the security forces was included in a report by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry released in November. The report noted that the activist was beaten so badly when he was arrested on April 8, 2011, that he needed “major jaw surgery for four broken bones in his face."

While recovering from that surgery in a hospital, the detainee “was blindfolded the whole time and handcuffed to the bed with tight cuffs. When he asked the hospital staff to loosen the cuffs, they refused. Security personnel in the hospital threatened him with sexual abuse and execution. They also made sexual threats against his wife and daughter."

Eight days after his surgery, the report added, when the activist was transferred to a prison, “regular beatings started at night. Masked guards cursed him and hit him in his head and hands, causing swelling. They forced a stick into his anus. He was also beaten on the soles of his feet and on his toes." NY Times

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