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Bahraini rights activist ends hunger strike after fellow prisoners collapse

Up to 50 other Bahraini prisoners had been hunger striking in solidarity, leading to concerns over their welfare
Bahraini protester, wearing a shirt showing Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, takes part in an anti-government protest (AFP)

Bahraini human rights activist Abdulhadi Alkhawaja has ended his hunger strike in prison, “out of concern” for around 50 other political prisoners who had been hunger striking in solidarity with him.

According to his daughter Maryam, who is also a human right activist and was previously interned herself, Abdulhadi ended his hunger strike, which had lasted 30 days, after two other hunger strikers collapsed on Monday.

“My father is on hunger strike because he wants to be free and it’s a case of being willing to die to live, because being in prison is not necessarily being alive at all," she told Middle East Eye.

But she said that the news that Naji Fateel, one of the founders of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, had collapsed and been taken to hospital, was a major factor.

“It really affected my father and that’s why he brought his hunger strike to an end, out of fear for the safety of those on hunger strike with him.”

Maryam Alkhawaja was released from prison herself on 19 September after being arrested at Bahrain International airport on 30 August.

She still faces charges of "assaulting a policewoman" and a travel ban has been imposed.

Abdulhadi co-founded the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights in 2002, an organisation dedicated to promoting human rights and pro-democracy values in Bahrain, which has since been banned by the government.

Nabeel Rajab, who also helped found the centre, and is a close friend of Abdulhadi, told MEE that the Centre had also requested he stop the hunger strike as it was not having a positive effect.

“He stopped because he doesn’t want all his friends to damage their health and lives," he said.

Abdulhadi has been in and out of prison repeatedly over the past ten years and has been on hunger strike previously, striking for 110 days in 2012, which led to his force-feeding by the Bahraini authorities.

Maryam told MEE that her father was in a very weak state after so much abuse.

“He’s at a stage right now where the doctor told him that he might go to sleep right now and not wake up again due to heart failure," she said.

"So it definitely has taken a toll.”

Nevertheless, she told MEE that Abdulhadi would be taking part in future hunger strikes.

Last Thursday the state-sanctioned Bahrain News Agency claimed that Crown Prince Sheikj Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa “had initiated a process of wide-ranging political and economic reform” and that “the delivery of the framework today by the Crown Prince is a continuation of Bahrain’s ongoing political development and reform, advancing individual rights, justice and increasing long-term stability in the Kingdom.”

In spite of the promise, thousands of Bahrainis demonstrated on the streets the following day, calling for democracy, human rights and civil liberties.

Such demonstrations have been commonplace since 2011, when anti-government protests rocked the country in the wake of the Arab Spring.

UK Defence Minister visits

The news comes as Michael Fallon, secretary of State for Defence, visits his counterpart Lt. General Dr. Shaikh Mohammed bin Abdullah Al Khalifa in Bahrain.

According to the Bahran News Agency he "lauded distinguished relations of friendship between both countries and growing bilateral cooperation mainly in the military field."

The UK sells millions of pounds worth of arms export licenses to Bahrain each year, in spite of warnings about human rights abuses in the country - with British manufactured military vehicles reportedly used in suppressing demonstrations.

Sarah Waldron, of the UK-based Campaign Against the Arms Trade, has criticised the UK's selling of arms to Bahrain.

"[UK Prime Minister] David Cameron should be speaking out on the deteriorating situation in Bahrain under King Hamad," she said in 2013 press release.

"The government's promotion of arms sales to Bahrain is lending practical and moral support to an authoritarian regime and directly supporting the escalating crackdown."