I visited on Saturday afternoon Ali Mushaima. He is currently on hunger strike and sleeps in front of the Bahraini Embassy in London to protest the denial of medical care for his father Hassan Mushaima, a prisoner of conscience in Bahrain.
I want to share with you in this blog post some information about Hassan Mushaima and about Ali’s hunger strike and his demands.
1. Who is Hassan Mushaima?
a) Hassan Mushaima was born in 1948. He is a shia cleric.
His political career started in 1990s. In 2001 he was one of the founders of Al Wefaq, one of the largest opposition parties in Bahrain. Between 2002 and 2006 he was Deputy Secretary-General of Al-Wefaq. In November 2005 he was co-founder of the Haq Movement for Liberty and Democracy and has also been the General Secretary of this party since its foundation.
b) Hassan Mushaima was a key figure in the Bahraini upraising in 1994 and has been arrested several time for his pro-democractic activities. He spent six months in prison from March to September 1995. He was again arrested and sentenced to five years in prison in January 1996. He was then arrested and imprisoned in February 2007 and was in detention from January 2009 – April 2009.
Hassan Mushaima was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2010. He went to the United Kingdom into exile and also to receive cancer treatment. The treatment was successful, but he requires regular screenings every six months to make sure that the cancer has not returned. In 2011 Bahrain dropped all charges against him and he returned to Bahrain on 26 February 2011. He was welcomed by a large crowd of supporters at the airport. BBC interviewed him and he told BBC that “he wanted genuine democratic reform that could turn Bahrain into a constitutional monarchy.” Hassan Mushaima was clear that he wanted to join the protests which had started on 14 February 2011. You can read more about the Arab Spring protest in Bahrain in my blog post about Parweez Jawad.
c) Hassan Mushaima enjoyed only three weeks of freedom in his home country. On 17 March 2011 security forces entered his house around 2 am and arrested him. He described what happened at his arrest as follows:
“I was asleep but my sons and daughters were awake, they heard loud and continuous ringing of the door bell, so they came to wake me up and tell me that the riot police are surrounding the house and that they are here to arrest me. I went to them and asked them the usual question if they had had a court order for my arrest or from the Public Prosecutor but they remained silent and entered my bedroom and searched it and took my laptop and my mobile phone, they then handcuffed me and took me, accompanied by a large number of riot police to “Safra” area. There and after the formal and quick examination they handcuffed me again and blindfolded me and put me in a vehicle I did not see for my welcome party to start, unlike all of my previous arrests, with beating, humiliation, insults and verbal abuse, for there was no law upheld or respected and no rights for the detainee, only bursts of hatred, revenge and vengeance.”
He explains in his statement that the intimidation and harassment continued during the following nights and days. He was abused, insulted, beaten and was forced to stand for hours. He was not allowed to take a shower. He gives in his statement many further details about the torture he had to endure. During the first month of his detention he had not contact with the outside world and when he was allowed to call his family after one month, he was warned not to say anything about the torture, but only greet them briefly.
d) Hassan Mushaima was tried as one of the members of the so-called “Bahrain 13”. It was the same trial in which Parweez Jawad was tried and you can read details in my earlier blog post about him. Here is a summary of the different court proceedings and verdicts:
The trial started on 8 May 2011 at the National Safety Lower Court. It is a military court and the case was brought by a military prosecutor.
The defendants were accused of a number of charges connected with national security crimes under Bahrain’s 1976 Penal Code and the 2006 Counterterrorism Law. The charges included among others “organising and managing a terrorist group for the overthrow and the change of the country’s constitution and the royal rule,” “seeking and correspond[ing] with a terrorist organisation abroad working for a foreign country to conduct heinous acts” against Bahrain, “broadcasting false news and rumours” that threatened public security, inciting sectarianism, and other similar charges. The defendants denied all charges.
Further hearings took place on 12 May and 16 May 2011. On 22 June 2011 Bahrain’s National Safety Court sentenced Hassan Mushaima to life in prison.
The appeal against the verdict was heard on 6 September 2011 by the National Safety Court of Appeal, again a military court. The verdict of the court of appeal was handed down on 28 September 2011. The appeal court upheld all convictions and sentences imposed in the first instance.
On 30 April 2012 the Court of Cassation in Manama ordered that Hassan Mushaima and the other defendants shall appear in front of a civilian court. The sentence against him remained unchanged. The following appeal proceedings took place before the High Criminal Court of Appeal (another civilian court). The final verdict was issued on 4 September 2012 and the sentence against Hassan Mushaima was upheld.
Amnesty International said that there is no evidence that any of the defendants had committed a crime and used or advocated violence. Amnesty International considers all 13 activists as prisoners of conscience who are in prison for their right to freedom of expression and association.
e) Hassan Mushaima serves his sentence in Jaw Central Prison. As mentioned in my blog post about Parweez Jawad all of the Bahrain 13 prisoners are in a separate section of Jaw Central Prison. They have no contact with other prisoners, but can talk to each other.
Hassan Mushaima suffers from several chronic medical conditions, including gout, diabetes and erratic blood pressure. According to a statement from 10 human rights NGOs he requires over 15 different types of medication. He is denied medical treatment and often does not receive all necessary medication. This has happened before. There was an Amnesty International urgent action on 14 June 2013 and on 29 July 2013. Both urged the Bahraini authorities to provide him with urgent medical treatment. There was another urgent action with similar demands in January this year.
Hassan Mushaima had no family visits since February 2017. In October 2017 the prison authorities confiscated all books, including religious books, papers, and writing materials from him and the other Bahrain 13 prisoners.
2. Who is Ali Mushaima and why is he on hunger strike?
Ali Mushaima is Hassan Mushaima’s son. Ali has been in the UK since 2006. He is living in North London together with his wife and their four months old daughter Zahra.
Bahrain has sentenced Ali Mushaima to 45 years in prison (he was tried in absence) and has revoked his citizenship in November 2012.
Ali started his hunger strike on 1 August 2018. He sleeps on a mattress on the street in front of the Bahraini Embassy. When I visited him on Saturday afternoon it was the 25th day of his hunger strike. He told me that he drinks quite a lot, mainly water, but does not eat anything. He said he had lost about 12 kilos during his hunger strike up to now. A doctor visits him every few days and he told me that the doctor was concerned about his low sugar levels at his last visit.
He sleeps outside – irrespective of the weather. He said that it was fine at the beginning of August when the weather was very hot, but that it was cold during the last nights and it was also raining quite a lot.
Ali Mushaima obviously wants to see his father free, but he currently has much simpler and more basic demands. His demands are:
(1) Adequate access to medical care, including the regular cancer scans
(2) Allow him family visit
(3) Give him access to books.
I made a short video (which is sadly not very professional), but it is still powerful to listen to Ali himself and understands why he had decided to go on hunger strike. Here is my tweet with the video:
3. What can I do to support Hassan Mushaima and Ali Mushaima?
I want to ask you to support Ali Mushaima and his father Hassan Mushaima.
If you are in London, then please go to the Bahraini Embassy and visit Ali. The address of the embassy is 30 Belgrave Square, Knightsbridge, London SW1X 8QB (not far from Hyde Park Corner Station). There are a number of people who visit him. His wife and his daughter come every day. A group of activists from Amnesty International joined him and protested last Monday and judging from social media there are quite a number of different people who decide to show their support through their visits. Nevertheless, Ali said he is always happy and grateful, if people come and talk to him and ask him about his situation and about his father. Also the embassy watches him all the time. They complain to the police for all sorts of reasons. It is good for Ali’s cause, if the embassy sees that many people are interested in Ali’s hunger strike and support him.
There is also a petition on Change.org. Please sign and share the petition. The petition could certainly do with many more signatures.
Please speak about him and his father on social media. If you do so, please use the hashtag #FreeHassanMushaima. Please also follow Ali Mushaima on Twitter for updates.
Finally, if you want to know more about Hassan Mushaima, I can recommend the following articles:
- Hassan Mushaima, Short biography on Bahrain Institute for Rights & Democracy (BIRD) website
- NGOs Call for Release, Urgent Medical Care for Political Prisoner Hassan Mushaima, BIRD, 1 August 2018
- Bahraini authorities are killing my father, I’m on hunger strike to save him, by
- Profiles in Persecution: Hassan Mushaima, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), 24 August 2018
I want to close this post with the hope that Ali Mushaima’s hungers strike will be successful and that the Bahraini authorities will yield to his demands.
4. Update on Ali Mushaima’s hunger strike (15 September 2018)
A few days after my first visit, on 30 August Ali Mushaima had been rushed to the hospital, because of low sugar level, low body temperature and low blood pressure. He was released after a few hours. The doctors urged him to break his hunger strike. Ali spent one night at home, but was back at Bahraini Embassy on the following day and he did not break his hunger strike.
On 4 September the prominent human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja joined Ali Mushaima’s hunger strike. Zainab is a daughter of Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja another member of the Bahrain 13 who had be tried in this same trials as Ali’s father and had also been sentenced to life in prison. Zainab had been imprisoned several times herself. She lives now in Denmark in exile.
BIRD released a worrying statement about Ali’s state of health on 12 September. They said that he had lost 16 kg (about 20% of his body weight) and that the doctors were
“alarmed for the “marked deterioration in his health and well-being”, and for the “acute consequences of his protest” which with “no doubt” will have “long standing implications”.
Numerous people asked Ali to stop his hunger strike to make sure that he would not seriously damage his health.
On 13 September 2018, after 43 days of hunger strike, Ali Mushaima made a statement at a press conference in front of the Bahraini Embassy. He said:
“After 44 days many friends have argued for me to end my hunger strike. I even received a message from Nabeel Rajab in prison. But what affected me the most was my father telling me how scared he was that there I was hospitalised. I will not end my hunger strike but I will start a liquid diet that will include soups. My body needs to recover but if my father’s basic rights are not met, which is full medical care, family visits and access to books, I’m ready to resume my full hunger strike not because it’s easy and not because it is life-threatening, but because I will never stop fighting for my dad and for our cause.”
I am very relieved that he decided to soften his hunger strike and that he will accept liquid food, in particular soup. I am glad that his father received medication and that there was a cancer screening. Even so Ali told me that they are still waiting for the result of the screening after more than two weeks. The result should be available at same day as the screening. I agree with him that the case has received considerable media attention and it is great that it received support from several MPs. There was also a debate at Westminster Hall on 11 September 2018 on “Human rights abuses and UK assistance to Bahrain”. Several MPs specifically mentioned Ali’s father.
I visited Ali yesterday evening at the Bahraini embassy. He is still there and he is still determined to fight for basic rights for his father. Ali said that he will stay at the embassy and will continue to sleep on this street for the time being, even so it is getting autumn and the nights are getting colder.
Let us make sure that his case is not forgotten and please continue to support him. Please continue to visit him and sign and share the petition (under 3). Please also write to your MP. You can easily do so using the “Write to them” form. Thomas Brake (Liberal Democrats, Carshalton and Wallington) started an Early Day Motion (EDM 1631) two days ago. The motion asks for an end of the degrading treatment of political prisoners in Bahrain, including Ali’s father. Please ask your MP to support this Early Day Motion and generally to speak up for prisoner of conscience in Bahrain.
I hope that many of you will continue to support Ali Mushaima and his father. Hassan Mushaima is a prisoner of conscience and he should be released, but I hope that the Bahraini authorities will at least grant Ali’s father the family visits and the access books. These are basic demands for every prisoner.