Bahrain hunger striker will get retrial

Bahrain has announced a retrial for a hunger-striking political activist and 20 other people accused of trying to overthrow the western-backed monarchy in the Gulf state's Arab spring protests last year. Abdulhadi al-Khawaja is to be tried in a civilian court – rather than a military court as before – suggesting an attempt by the Bahraini government to respond to domestic and international criticism of its policies by finding a face-saving solution. Khawaja, 52, was sentenced to life imprisonment for plotting against the state last summer. But a three-month hunger strike and an energetic campaign by family and supporters have kept his case in the spotlight. It was raised too in the runup to the recent controversial Formula One Grand Prix in Bahrain. Khawaja is currently in a military hospital in a serious condition, having lost 25% of his body weight. The Bahrain defence forces denied in a statement on Sunday that he was being force-fed.

The decision to give him a retrial is a partial victory for Khawaja, but his family said immediately that it did not go far enough as he is to remain in custody. "Abdulhadi al-Khawaja did not go on hunger strike saying death or retrial, he said death or freedom," his daughter Maryam wrote on Twitter. "A retrial doesn't mean much." Khawaja's wife, Khadija al-Moussawi, told the BBC: "I think it is ridiculous. What sort of legal process is this? They are playing for time, and should have transferred his case to a civilian court at the first hearing, not the third." The Bahrain Human Rights Society noted that the retrial would still be based on interrogations carried out by military prosecutors.

The retrial decision is line with the so far largely ignored recommendations of the Bahrain independent commission of investigation (BICI) appointed by King Hamad Al Khalifa, which found that Khawaja had suffered prolonged torture while in detention. Khawaja has dual nationality with Denmark, and the Danish ambassador criticised the decision to keep him in custody and renewed his call for Khawaja to be transferred to Denmark on humanitarian grounds. Bahrain's government, meanwhile, has been accused of urging supporters to vote in an online opinion poll on the Radio Times website to ensure that a highly critical film about repression during last year's protests does not win the current affairs prize at this year's Bafta Television Awards. On Saturday, the Bahraini foreign minister, Khalid Al Khalifa, tweeted to his nearly 80,000 followers urging loyalists to vote against the al-Jazeera documentary Bahrain: Shouting in the Dark. The film has already won numerous awards for al-Jazeera. Human Rights Watch said in a new report at the weekend that Bahraini police were beating and torturing detainees, including minors, despite the recommendations of the BICI and public commitments to end torture and police impunity.

"Bahrain has displaced the problem of torture and police brutality from inside police stations to the point of arrest and transfer to police stations," said Nadim Houry, the deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "This abuse contradicts one of the most important recommendations of the independent commission and shows why investigations and prosecutions of abusers to the highest level are essential to stopping these practices."

See also: A call from the international  network - Secularism Is A Women’s Issue (SIAWI)
To the authorities in Bahrain and to Member-States of the European Union:

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