An Activist's Hunger Strike Brings Bahrainis Into The Streets08:23
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Bahraini anti-government protesters carry images of jailed hunger-striker Abdulhadi al-Khawaja that read "Freedom or martyrdom" during a demonstration Sunday outside the Interior Ministry in Manama, Bahrain. (AP)
Bahraini anti-government protesters carry images of jailed hunger-striker Abdulhadi al-Khawaja that read "Freedom or martyrdom" during a demonstration Sunday outside the Interior Ministry in Manama, Bahrain. (AP)

The Grand Prix Formula One Race is scheduled to take place in Bahrain next week.

The event's slogan is wishful thinking though: "Unified — One Nation In Celebration."

Bahrainis are not celebrating — in fact they're protesting and the government is responding forcefully.

Last week, thousands of people marched to support Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, a jailed human rights activist who has been on a hunger strike for over 60 days.

Security personnel fired tear gas into the crowd and used stun grenades. The majority of Bahrainis are Shi'ite — while the ruling royal family are Sunni.

Al-Khawaja is serving a life sentence for his participation in anti-government protests last April - events that led to the cancellation of the 2011 Grand Prix Formula One race. While his family and lawyer say he is close to death, Bahraini officials say he shows no signs of critical medical problems and has been taking fluids orally or by an IV drip.

"At the moment, nobody has seen him for two days, neither his family nor his lawyer," said Mary Lawlor, director of Front Line Defenders, an Irish human rights group Al-Khawaja has worked for. Lawlor told Here & Now's Robin Young that Al-Khawaja has lost 25 percent of his body weight.

"If he were to die in the run-up to Formula One, there would be huge unrest, I think, in Bahrain," she said.

Lawlor believes the situation is not safe for Bahrainis.

"Having been there last week I could see already the way that the situation is developing," she said. "Formula One really needs to consult with the people on the ground...they should use the fact that Bahraini authorities really want Formula One to go ahead, to make a plea that Abdulhadi would be released on humanitarian grounds to go for medical treatment to Denmark. And that would at least stabilize a bit of the situation."

Guest:

  • Mary Lawlor, director, Front Line Defenders. Al-Khawaja has worked for Front Line Defenders

This segment aired on April 10, 2012.

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