Bahrain hunger striker says his detention a 'crime'



MANAMA, Taieb Mahjoub- Bahraini activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja described his imprisonment as a "crime" on Tuesday as he attended his trial for the first time since launching a hunger strike in February, arriving in a wheelchair.
"The continuation of my arrest is a crime," Khawaja, wearing a white shirt and black trousers, told the appeals court. "Stop this sham trial."
"There is no legal excuse for my continued detention," he said.



Bahrain hunger striker says his detention a 'crime'
The prominent activist, who is being retried in a civil court after a military tribunal had sentenced him to life in prison, looked frail and weak but moved his chair forward without medical assistance. A doctor and three nurses accompanied him.
Khawaja, who has dual Bahraini and Danish nationalities, was convicted last June, along with 20 other activists, of plotting to overthrow the government and has been on a hunger strike since February 8.
"For more than 100 days I have been on hunger strike and am ready to sacrifice my life to demand freedom," Khawaja told the court.
Khawaja, who held the government responsible for any "risks" he might face in the coming days, claimed at court that he had been subjected to "abuse... humiliation" and "sexual harassment" during his detention.
"I was treated violently and humiliated," said the activist who described himself as a human rights defender and not "a member of any political group."
The activist, who made a few small steps towards the judge before returning to his wheelchair, said he had been "force-fed" in prison.
Khawaja, arrested in April last year, became a symbol of Bahrain's popular uprising that began in February 2011.
His lawyer, Mohammed al-Jishi, told AFP last week after meeting with him at Jaw prison south of Manama that "his health has slightly improved because he was force-fed."
Seven activists, including Khawaja, were jailed for life, while 14 others were sentenced to between two and 15 years in prison.
Of these, one has since been freed while 12 are being retried along with Khawaja and were present in the court. Seven remain at large.
Abdulwahab Hussein, who leads the Shiite Wafa Islamic Movement and was among those jailed for life, reiterated at the court his demand for "a republic in Bahrain."
Tuesday's hearing was attended by Western diplomats and family members of the detainees. The next hearing was set for May 29.
Bahrain has repeatedly come under pressure from rights groups as well as Western governments to release Khawaja.
The United Nations on Monday urged Bahrain to release its political prisoners, including prominent rights activist Nabeel Rajab who is charged with tweeting insults against the government, as well as Khawaja.
At the meeting in Geneva of the UN Human Rights Council, France requested a "humanitarian response" for the dissident and Denmark said he should be released for treatment.
Another court in Manama adjourned on Monday the hearing in Rajab's trial over another charge -- taking part in "illegal" gatherings -- to May 28.
Rajab, who heads the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, was brought to court Tuesday handcuffed and accompanied by two guards, according to an AFP journalist.
He has been leading anti-government protests following a brutal crackdown on Shiite-led demonstrations against the Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty in March 2011.
London-based rights group Amnesty International says 60 people have been killed since the uprising began in mid-February last year.
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Wednesday, May 23rd 2012
Taieb Mahjoub
           


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