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Bahrain: Leading rights defender denied cardiologist after suffering heart problems

Abdul-Hadi al-Khawaja was sent back to prison in 'chains' after doctor said he needs to see a cardiologist, his daughter says
Muslim women rally to show solidarity with Abdul-Hadi al-Khawaja in the village of Jidhafs, West Manama, on 24 April 2012 (AFP)

One of Bahrain’s most prominent human rights defenders has been denied a cardiologist after going to hospital for an urgent heart problem.

Abdul-Hadi al-Khawaja, 61, who was imprisoned in 2011 after leading peaceful protests that called for fundamental freedoms in the kingdom, was transferred to the clinic at Jau Prison on 28 February for an urgent heart issue, his daughter Maryam al-Khawaja from the #FreeAlKhawaja campaign, said.

After an examination, which included an electrocardiogram, a doctor recommended he be transferred immediately to Bahrain Defence Force Hospital, as his heartbeat was abnormally fast. 

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He later told his daughter Maryam that he was experiencing heavy breathing and an elevated heartbeat.

After being transferred to hospital, other medical tests were performed. According to his daughter, the doctor recommended that Abdul-Hadi be urgently moved to a cardiologist's care, but “they refused to book the necessary appointment”.

Maryam said “a plain-clothed man” at the medical facility insisted his hands be cuffed and that he be taken back to prison. According to his daughter, Abdul-Hadi believes the refusal to book his appointment was done to punish him because he had protested against being chained. 

“I am constantly in a state of anxiety waiting for that call that something happened to my father in their notorious prison, and this latest news has now increased my anxiety tenfold,” his daughter said.

“My father is dying in their prisons, and the international community, especially the EU and Denmark, have failed him time and time again to serve their own short-sighted interests,” Maryam said.

“It is freedom-loving people like my father and our family that bear the brunt of the cost of those interests. I do not want my father released to our family in a coffin. We need Bahrain’s allies, namely the West, to move before it’s too late.” 

New charges

Last year, Abdul-Hadi was hit with new charges, including allegations that he insulted a prison guard and broke a plastic chair when denied the right to call his daughters from prison.

In January, the High Criminal Second Court of Appeal upheld the charge of breaking the chair.

Abdul-Hadi is a longstanding human rights defender who co-founded the Gulf Centre for Human Rights and the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, where he also served as president.

He was also named winner of the 2022 Martin Ennals Award, which is given to human rights defenders who show a deep commitment to their cause despite significant personal risk.

Damian McCormack, a surgeon in Ireland, told his daughter Maryam that "Abdul-Hadi al-Khawaja should immediately be transferred to a tertiary level cardiac care unit for diagnostics and treatment.

"I am anxious to facilitate his medical evacuation to Ireland if possible and hope that senior RCSI staff in Bahrain can encourage the regime to authorise the same."

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