Bahraini activist says will return home to save father’s life despite risk of imprisonment

Bahraini human rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja says she will travel home next week and take the risk of detention in order to raise awareness over her father’s imprisonment and an ongoing mass hunger strike at the notorious Jau Prison.

Khawaja is the daughter of Bahrain’s political activist and human rights advocate Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who was sentenced to life in prison in 2011 after leading pro-democracy protests in the Persian Gulf kingdom.

The 62-year-old campaigner is among 800 prisoners who have taken such action since early August to express deep resentment over restrictive measures in the detention center, where they are locked in their cells for up to 23 hours a day.

He was admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) at a military hospital with cardiac arrhythmia two days into the strike. After treatment, his heartbeat stabilized and he was taken back to prison. He resumed his strike shortly afterwards.

“Every day that passes, I am worried that I will receive a phone call that my father has died in prison,” Khawaja said.

“This is my last-resort attempt at saving his life, and I also want to raise attention on over 800 people on hunger strike in Bahrain right now,” she added.

The female rights activist noted that her decision to go back home could lead to serious consequences, and she risks a potential life sentence.

Bahraini officials in 2014 charged Khawaja with assaulting police officers and sentenced her in absentia to a year in prison. She said she was assaulted by regime forces who then accused her of assault.

In addition to the one-year sentence, Khawaja said she faces four other charges related to insulting the Bahraini monarch, King Hamad, each of which carries a potential seven-year sentence.

“As far as I know, there’s also been a charge that’s been filed under the terrorism law against me which is vaguely defined, which means that even the work of a human rights defender can be considered terrorism,” she said.

The activist has a group of people who have pledged to travel with her, given the very high risk that she will be arrested as soon as she lands in Bahrain.

In order to raise further awareness of her father’s case, and now her own case, Khawaja has called on people to write to their representatives and bring attention to what is happening, hoping that it will provide her with some protection.

While other activists and campaigners have hailed her decision as brave, Khawaja said it was not an easy choice.

“To tell the truth, I’m terrified about going back,” she said. “I definitely don’t want to be back in prison. I’ve experienced prison. I’ve experienced going on hunger strike. I know what that’s like.”

Khawaja hopes to put enough pressure on Manama regime authorities so that the hunger strikers’ demands are met and that she doesn’t end up behind bars.


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