IF YOU HAVE been on St Stephen’s Green recently in Dublin, you will have noticed the giant banner covering three stories of the corner building at Earlsfort Terrace.
The banner is dedicated to spreading the word about Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, who is on hunger strike in Bahrain, after being convicted to life in prison for “organising and managing a terrorist organisation”. EOIN LYNCH gives us an update on Alkhawaja’s story as he enters his 61st day of hunger strike.
Abdulhadi Al Khawaja is now entering the 61st day of his hunger strike and according to medical experts consulted by the Human Rights organisation Frontline Defenders he has an 80 per cent chance of survival if he comes off the strike immediately. However, it is unlikely that he will do so.
In May of 2011, Abdulhadi was convicted to life in prison by a Bahraini court for “organising and managing a terrorist organisation”, a charge that Abdulhadi’s family and former colleagues from Amnesty International strongly dispute.
Throughout his imprisonment there has been evidence of Abdulhadi being beaten and tortured; his initial two months of detention were spent in solitary confinement, where he was sexually and physically abused.
Supporters of Abdulhadi, who holds dual citizenship between Denmark and Bahrain, are now hoping that he will be released to Danish authorities, however this is looking increasingly unlikely despite the efforts of the Danish Foreign Minister Villy Sovndal who, on Good Friday, formally requested that Abdulhadi be released and brought to Denmark for immediate medical treatment.
The Bahraini authorities responded immediately by claiming that Abdulhadi is under 24-hour medical supervision at the BDF Military hospital in Manama.
Later this month the Formula 1 rolls into Manama for the much anticipated Bahraini Grand Prix, which was cancelled last year due to protesting in the city. It was this unrest that led to the arrest and conviction of Abdulhadi. If Abdulhadi dies between now and April 20th (when the Grand Prix begins), many observers fear that unprecedented violence will take to the streets of Manama.
Mary Lawlor of FrontLine Defenders, who returned from Bahrain last week, claims that the tension is palpable and states that: “From observing protests last week in Bahrain, it is clear that Bahrain is not safe for Bahrainis”.
What is unclear at the moment is how aware the Formula 1 authorities are of the situation in Bahrain. Formula 1 CEO Bernie Eccelstone has said that “whatever is necessary to do will be done, and which is probably not necessary anyway.” Ecclestone added: “We’ve never been concerned about security in the past. I don’t understand why people should be concerned now”. Ecclestone is clearly listening to the massive PR machine that the Bahraini government has put in place claiming Bahrain to be “safe and open for business”.
However, some people within the Formula 1 community are clearly uneasy about the forthcoming Grand Prix. Former World Champion Damon Hill has urged the Formula 1 authorities to consider the “pain, anger and tension in Bahrain” before going ahead with this month’s race.
The majority of Abdulhadi supporters are not looking for a cancellation of the Grand Prix, but as Mary Lawlor claims, “ we would like to see those involved (in Formula 1) to use their considerable power and voice some concern for Abdulhadi”.