Bahraini Activist Goes on Hunger Strike to Demand Father’s ‘Basic Rights’

Ali Mushaima, the son of Bahraini political opposition leader, Hassan Mushaima, is on his third week of a hunger strike in London outside of the Bahraini embassy.

Ali, 35, began his hunger strike on August 1 and vows to continue until his father is granted basic rights, including access to medical care. The sign he holds reads, “[T]he Bahraini Authorities are killing my father (70). I am on hunger strike to demand that my father has immediate access to medical care and that he is allowed: family visits (last visit Feb. 2017) [and] access to books.”

Ali Mushaima explained that his father needs regular medical care because he was treated for lung cancer in 2010. His father also has diabetes, high blood pressure, gout, and a urinary tract infection. Bahraini authorities deny that Hassan is being refused medical care, claiming he has visited the prison medical clinic more than a dozen times in 2018 alone. The Bahraini embassy in London stated, according to Reuters, that Hassan “continues to receive medical attention, along with his prescribed medications and a special diet as part of his medical regime.” They allege, however, that “Mr. [Hassan] Mushaima refused to attend these scans on both occasions last year.”

Ali, who has lived in London since 2006, counters that his father has been subjected to torture humiliation, and unsanitary conditions in the country’s notorious Jau prison. Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) has called Bahraini authorities’ treatment of political prisoners in the Jau prison a “violation of international standards for detention.”

This is not the first time that the Jau prison has received questions about the treatment of its prisoners. In May 2011, human rights advocacy group Human Rights First released a report that included flat out denials from Bahraini authorities concerning allegations of torture stating that “everyone who’s been arrested has been shown an arrest warrant and proper documentation” and that “no one had been taken by masked men from their home.” In their response, the authorities emphasized the detainees’ guilt rather than focusing on concerns about their treatment.

Ali stated that he is part of the same court case as his father, and as such he has been convicted in absentia to 45 years in prison, and has had his Bahraini citizenship revoked. If he returns to his country of origin, he will be jailed as well.

Ali is reported to have lost 7 kilos (15.5 lbs) since he began his hunger strike, but is in stable condition according to his doctor. He told Al Jazeera “It’s not easy to sleep on the streets. I left my daughter and my wife. It’s hard, but I have no choice . . . . I have to do something to save my dad’s life. Sometimes, we need to sacrifice ourselves to save others.”

Hassan Mushaima was a founding member of the political party, Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, and a leader of the 1994 Bahraini uprisings, in which at least 10 civilians were killed, and according to an Amnesty International report the following year, “in circumstances suggesting that they may have been extrajudicially executed.” The protests, also known as the “uprising of dignity,” demanded democratic reforms.

Hassan Mushaima had multiple stints in prison in the 1990s and 2000s as a result of his political activism. In 2005, he founded the political opposition organization, the Haq Movement for Liberty and Democracy and became Secretary General of the movement.

In 2010, he traveled to the U.K. for cancer treatment, but returned to Bahrain to participate in the 2011 Arab Spring protests. Upon his return, he allegedly told his supporters, “[T]he dictator fell in Tunisia, the dictator fell in Egypt and the dictator should fall here.”

Upon his return, Hassan and several other prominent opposition leaders from Al Wafa movement, the Bahrain Islamic Freedom movement, and Salvation movement formed the “Alliance for the Republic,” which according to the Bahrain News Agency, aimed at changing the national constitution and system of government as well as “preventing the Government and public institutions and authorities from functioning.” Shortly thereafter, on March 17, security forces broke into Hassan Mushaima’s home and arrested him, and in June 2011, he was sentenced to life in prison for attempting to overthrow the regime.

Bahrain’s ruling Sunni Al Khalifa family has cracked down on political opposition, particularly against the Shia majority of the population, since 2011. Authorities prosecute dozens of activists on charges of terrorism in mass trials held before military tribunals. Lynn Maalouf, Middle East Research Director at Amnesty International, argues that most of these activists are only engaged in peaceful protests. He stated, “[T]he Bahraini authorities’ treatment of these wrongfully imprisoned peaceful activists violates international law and standards on prisoner treatment and constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.”

Another prominent human rights activist Bahrain detains is Nabeel Rajab, an activist and opposition leader serving a five-year prison sentence for inflammatory tweets criticizing the torture of Bahraini prisoners in Jau prison and the killing of civilians in the Yemeni civil war. In 2011, Rajab’s colleague and human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja was tortured and sentenced to life in prison for protesting. In 2016, Freedom House estimated that Bahrain was holding 4,000 political prisoners.