Bahrain activist to continue hunger strike

Al-Khawaja`S wife repeated his claims that he was force-fed with nasal tubes and IVs in the past week.

Manama: A jailed Bahraini rights activist will not end his nearly three-month hunger strike despite a court-ordered review of his conviction and life sentence, his wife said on Tuesday, as sporadic clashes broke out around the Gulf kingdom.

Khadija al-Musawi said her husband, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, told her that yesterday`s court decision does not change his demand for an immediate release, which has become a centrepiece of anti-government protests in recent weeks.

"His condition to stop the hunger strike is to be free," said al-Musawi. "If not, then the option is to die and his death will be his freedom."

Al-Khawaja and seven other opposition figures received life sentences last year from a military-led tribunal, which was created by Bahrain`s Sunni leaders as part of crackdowns against an uprising by the nation`s Shiite majority.

A court yesterday ordered a full re-examination of the cases, effectively a retrial, for the group that received life sentences and 14 others given lesser jail terms after being accused of anti-state crimes. Seven people among the entire 21-member group were sentenced in absentia.

The ruling, however, did not mandate their release during the review. Just one activist, whose sentence was reduced to six months, was freed yesterday on time served.

At least 50 people have died in unrest since February 2011 on this strategic island nation, which is home to the US Navy`s 5th Fleet. Hundreds also have been arrested or purged from jobs as part of pressures on the opposition, which says it seeks a greater voice in Bahrain`s affairs.

Bahrain`s monarchy, meanwhile, has made concessions, but not enough to satisfy demands of protesters calling for the ruling dynasty to give up its control of government. Clashes take place nearly every day -- with al-Khawaja emerging recently as a powerful rallying point for demonstrators since he began his hunger strike February 8.

Today, riot police fired tear gas at protesters staging marches to mark May Day. A statement by the largest Shiite political group, Al Wefaq, demanded that "all political prisoners should be released."
Last month, Bahrain rejected a request by Denmark to take custody of al-Khawaja, 51, who also is a Danish citizen from his years in self-exile. Shortly after yesterday`s court decision, al-Khawaja was visited by the Danish ambassador in a prison hospital ward, said his wife, al-Musawi.

She said al-Khawaja repeated his claims that he was force-fed with nasal tubes and IVs in the past week. Bahrain denied the charges, saying he agreed to all treatments.