Middle East

Jailed Bahrain opposition figures on hunger strike

A poster of the jailed activists on a hunger strike in Bahrain (31 January 2012)
Image caption The jailed opposition figures began a week-long hunger strike on Sunday

Fourteen jailed opposition figures in Bahrain have begun a week-long hunger strike, almost a year after a short-lived pro-democracy uprising began.

The politicians, human rights activists and bloggers are protesting against the continued suppression of dissent.

Eight of them are currently serving life sentences in Manama's Jaw prison.

They were convicted by a military court of "forming a terrorist group to change the constitution and its monarchical system" and organising demonstrations.

An independent commission of human rights experts recently criticised the military trials and advised the authorities to review all convictions.

But the case of the 14 opposition figures - who include leading human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja; Hassan Mushaimaa, secretary general of the Shia-dominated Haq movement; and the Sunni opposition leader, Ibrahim Sharif - is set to be heard only by the Court of Cassation, the highest appeal court.

They began the hunger strike on Sunday, slightly more than two weeks before 14 February, the anniversary of the first mass protests which were eventually crushed by Bahraini and Gulf security forces in mid-March.

'Tear gas'

"They demand an end to the political crackdown," Mohammed al-Maskati, head of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, told the Reuters news agency.

"They are protesting against the unfair trial they faced and they want the release of all prisoners of conscience."

Mr Maskati later told the AFP news agency that 150 other prisoners had joined the hunger strike, and that police had fired tear gas at them.

He also said that Mr Khawaja had been admitted to hospital after suffering from hypotension and low blood-sugar levels.

The interior ministry insisted the hunger strikers were being well treated.

"All prisoners are receiving full medical care and a team of medics is present 24 hours to provide treatment when needed," a statement said.

"No cases of illness have been registered due to the hunger strike."

At least 35 people were killed between 14 February and 15 April 2011, 30 of them civilians and five security forces personnel, according to the human rights commission. It also found that security forces had used excessive force and tortured detainees, including five who died.

Almost 3,000 people were also arrested by security services after a state of emergency was declared by King Hamad in March, while 2,460 private sector employees and 1,945 civil servants were dismissed from their jobs.

But activists say the crackdown is continuing, and they have attributed four deaths in the past two weeks to the actions of the security forces.

The majority of protesters are from Bahrain's Shia majority community, who complain of discrimination at the hands of the Sunni monarchy.