MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — A jailed Bahraini rights activist will not end his nearly three-month hunger strike despite a court-ordered review of his conviction and life sentence, his wife said Tuesday as sporadic clashes broke out around the Gulf kingdom.
Khadija al-Musawi said her husband, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, told her that Monday's court decision does not change his demand for an immediate release — which has become a centerpiece of anti-government protests in recent weeks.
"His condition to stop the hunger strike is to be free," said al-Musawi. "If not, then the option is to die, and his death will be his freedom."
Al-Khawaja and seven other opposition figures received life sentences last year from a military-led tribunal, which was created by Bahrain's Sunni leaders as part of crackdowns against an uprising by the nation's Shiite majority.
A court on Monday ordered a full re-examination of the cases — effectively a retrial — for the group that received life sentences and 14 others given lesser jail terms after being accuses of anti-state crimes. Seven people among the entire 21-member group were sentenced in absentia.
The ruling, however, did not mandate their release during the review. Just one activist, whose sentence was reduced to six months, was freed Monday on time served.
At least 50 people have died in unrest since February 2011 on this strategic island nation, which is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. Hundreds also have been arrested or purged from jobs as part of pressure on the opposition, which says it seeks a greater voice in Bahrain's affairs.
Bahrain's monarchy has made concessions, but not enough to satisfy demands of protesters calling for the ruling dynasty to give up its control of government. Clashes take place nearly every day — with al-Khawaja emerging recently as a powerful rallying point for demonstrators since he began his hunger strike Feb. 8.
On Tuesday, riot police used tear gas and stun grenades and protesters hurled firebombs during clashes after marches to mark May Day. A statement by the largest Shiite political group, Al Wefaq, demanded that "all political prisoners should be released."
Last month, Bahrain rejected a request by Denmark to take custody of al-Khawaja, 51, who also is a Danish citizen from his years in self-exile. Shortly after Monday's court decision, al-Khawaja was visited by the Danish ambassador in a prison hospital ward, said his wife, al-Musawi.
She said al-Khawaja repeated his claims that he was force-fed with nasal tubes and IVs in the past week. Bahrain denied the charges, saying he agreed to all treatments.
Al-Khawaja has been described by relatives as weak, but able to hold conversations and in generally good spirits.
In Geneva, the U.N. human rights office welcomed Bahrain's move to re-examine the cases against al-Khawaja and the others. A spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, said Bahraini authorities have now "recognized the importance of moving away from military justice for civilians."
Human Rights Watch on Monday called on Bahraini authorities to free al-Khawaja and 13 other jailed opposition leaders.
"The military court's original verdict was absolutely mind-boggling. It did not mention a single actual criminal offense beyond acts relating to their basic human rights," Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. "Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and his co-defendants should not have to spend even one more day in prison for so-called crimes of speech and peaceful assembly."
A similar retrial process is under way in a civilian court for 20 medical professionals convicted by the military-led tribunal of anti-state crimes and sentenced to five to 15 years in prison. The next hearing in their case is scheduled for May 10.
Associated Press writer John Heilprin in Geneva contributed to this report.
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