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Disagreement over Bahraini hunger strikers

Rights group says 2 refusing fluids while minister says only one on hunger strike

Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Two jailed activists on hunger strike in Bahrain are also refusing fluids in protest at being denied visits from their family, a rights organisation said on Monday.

But the Bahraini government said Zainab Al Khawaja was accepting fluids and denied that her father, leading Shiite activist Abdul Hadi Al Khawaja, was on any form of hunger strike.

Bahrain has been in turmoil since 2011, when the Shiite-led opposition intensified demands for an end to alleged discrimination and for full powers for parliament.

Zainab Al Khawaja was sentenced to three months in jail this month, accused of insulting a public official, after an appeal court overturned her earlier acquittal.

She has been on hunger strike since March 17 and began refusing fluids on Sunday, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights said in an e-mailed press release. It said her father, who is serving a life sentence for his role in the 2011 uprising, was also on hunger strike.

“Both Abdul Hadi Al Khawaja and his daughter Zainab Al Khawaja were denied family visits for the second time this weekend, prompting them to start a dry hunger strike [on] 24 March,” the centre said in the statement.

The Bahraini government said only Zainab was on hunger strike, which she began on March 18. “But she is taking all kinds of fluid,” Sameera Rajab, Bahrain’s information minister, said by telephone from Manama.

“She is in good health and is receiving 24-hour health care. Her father is not on hunger strike,” Sameera said, adding the pair had been denied family visits because they refused to wear the prison uniform.

“They break the rules and then they go on hunger strike,” she said.

The human rights centre said some detainees, among them Abdul Hadi Al Khawaja, had until recently not been required to wear the uniform and that enforcing the rule was “a new tool used to humiliate prisoners of conscience and identify them as criminal prisoners”.

Bahrain’s opposition and government resumed reconciliation talks last month for the first time since July 2011, but little progress has been reported in several sessions of negotiations.