23rd Sep 2018

Bahrain hunger striker prompts EU response

  • Bahrain's royal family refuses to release human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja (Photo: Bahrain Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Entering his 63rd day of hunger strike, Bahraini-Danish activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja has finally attracted public reactions from Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and the spokesperson for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Asthon.

"What we're hearing now is that al-Khawaja's condition is very critical. And we continue our efforts at all levels," Thorning-Schmidt, who currently holds the rotating EU presidency, told reporters on Wednesday (11 April). The Danish ambassador to Bahrain was allowed a short, 20-minute visit with al-Khawaja at his military hospital bed on Tuesday.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Family members say he may slip into a coma and risks cardiac arrest at any time. He has already lost some 25 percent of his body weight.

Ashton's spokesperson did not call for his release but instead urged "the Bahraini authorities to take all appropriate measures to find a humanitarian solution to Mr al-Khawaja's deteriorating health situation, as a matter of absolute urgency."

Al-Khawaja, the former Middle East and North Africa director of the Irish-based Frontline Defenders Rights organisation, was sentenced to life in prison along with seven other activists following their arrest last April. Each was charged in June with a range of offenses related to their role in peaceful demonstrations in Bahrain in February and March 2011.

At the time, the senior advisor to EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, Robert Cooper, defended Bahrain's security forces after they opened fire on protesters with live ammunition in the capital's Pearl Square.

Shortly after Cooper's intervention, al-Khawaja was detained and reportedly tortured. He was admitted to the Bahrain Defence Force Hospital in April last year with a cracked jaw and skull, requiring several operations.

The small island-kingdom is ruled by a US-and-Saudi-Arabia-backed Sunni regime headed by the royal Khalifa family. But the Shia majority is demanding democratic reforms that would overturn the royal status quo.

The Gulf island is host to the US Navy's 5th Fleet and is strategically important to Western-backed initiatives to counter Iranian power in the region.

Ongoing clashes between the opposition and Bahraini security forces have reportedly resulted in some 50 deaths over the past 14 months.

In the meantime, the country is still being courted by EU glitterati. The Queen of England invited its King al-Khalifa to celebrate the 60th anniversary of her rule at the Diamond Jubilee in the UK in June.

The UK government also approved the sale of military equipment valued at more than €1.2 million in the months that followed the uprising last year. The weapons included licenses for gun silencers, weapons sights, rifles, artillery and components for military training aircraft, reports the Guardian.

The island is scheduled to host the Formula 1 Grand Prix race on 22 April. The same event was cancelled last year amid the crackdown. But promise of reform prompted organisers to resinstate the race.

"The government promised changes last year but no changes have taken place because there is no incentive to make them. And tortures are still taking place," said Maryam al-Khawaja, head of the foreign relations office at the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights.

Top EU official defends Bahrain crackdown

A senior advisor to EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton has defended Bahrain's security forces after they opened fire on protesters with live ammunition last week.

EU wants continental free-trade deal with Africa

Earlier this week, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in his state of the union announced a new relationship with Africa. On Friday, his subordinates outlined the vision, promising jobs and growth by leveraging public funds for investments.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  5. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  6. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  7. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  8. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  9. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  10. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  11. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow

Latest News

  1. Brexit and MEPs expenses in the spotlight This WEEK
  2. Wake-up call on European Day Against Islamophobia
  3. Sound of discord at 'Sound of Music' Salzburg summit
  4. Salzburg summit presses for bigger Frontex mandate
  5. UK's post-Brexit plan 'will not work', EU says
  6. Airbnb agrees to clarify pricing for EU
  7. Libya keeps coast guards rejected by the EU
  8. EU divisions on menu at Salzburg dinner

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us