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Bahrain hunger striker appears in court on wheelchair

Wheelchair-bound prominent activist attends his trial for the first time since beginning a hunger strike

Gulf News

 Manama: Bahraini activist Abdul Hadi Al Khawaja entered court on a wheelchair on Tuesday, attending his trial for the first time since he began a hunger strike in February, an AFP correspondent said.

The prominent activist, who is being retried at 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.

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.

Seven of the activists, including Khawaja, were jailed for life, while 14 others were sentenced to between two and 15 years in prison.

Seven now remain at large, 13 are on retrial, while one activist has been freed.

Khawaja, arrested in April last year, became a symbol of Bahrain's popular uprising that began in February 2011.

His lawyer, Mohammad 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."

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.

London-based rights group Amnesty International says 60 people have been killed since the uprising began in mid-February last year.