Bahrain announces retrial for hunger striker Khawaja
Political activist to be tried in civilian rather than military court as Bahrain appears to respond to international pressure
Bahrain has announced a retrial for a hunger-striking political activist and 20 others accused of trying to overthrow the western-backed monarchy in the Gulf state’s Arab spring protests last year.
Abdulhadi al-Khawaja is to be tried in a civilian court – rather than a military court as before – part of an effort by the Bahraini government to respond to domestic and international criticism of its policies by finding a face-saving solution. A senior Bahraini official suggested he might get a reduced sentence in a new trial.
But continued protest in Bahrain was backed by Amnesty International UK yesterday, saying that, pending retrial, Khawaja and 13 others should be released from custody. Human Rights Watch also called for their immediate release, saying the set-aside verdict was “mind-boggling” in its lack any specific criminal offences.
Khawaja, 52, was sentenced to life imprisonment for plotting against the state last summer. But a three-month hunger strike and an energetic campaign by family and supporters have kept his case in the spotlight. It was raised too in the runup to the recent controversial Formula One Grand Prix in Bahrain. Khawaja is in a military hospital in a serious condition, having lost 25% of his body weight; the Bahrain defence forces denied in a statement on Sunday that he was being force-fed.
The retrial is a partial victory for Khawaja, but his family insisted he must not remain in custody. “Abdulhadi al-Khawaja did not go on hunger strike saying death or retrial, he said death or freedom,” his daughter Maryam wrote on Twitter. “A retrial doesn’t mean much.”
Pictured: The Bahraini hunger striker Abdulhadi al-Khawaja before his arrest. Photograph: Mazen Mahdi/EPA