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UN: Bahrain should consider transferring striker

Bahraini anti-government protesters carry images of jailed hunger-striker Abdulhadi al-Khawaja that read 'Freedom or martyrdom' during a demonstration Sunday, April 8, 2012, outside the Interior Ministry in Manama, Bahrain. Bahrain on Sunday rejected the Danish government's request to transfer the jailed activist who is on a nearly two-month hunger strike to Denmark for treatment, the official news agency in the Gulf kingdom said. Bahraini anti-government protesters carry images of jailed hunger-striker Abdulhadi al-Khawaja that read "Freedom or martyrdom" during a demonstration Sunday, April 8, 2012, outside the Interior Ministry in Manama, Bahrain. Bahrain on Sunday rejected the Danish government's request to transfer the jailed activist who is on a nearly two-month hunger strike to Denmark for treatment, the official news agency in the Gulf kingdom said. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)
April 9, 2012
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UNITED NATIONS—U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday that Bahrain should consider transferring a jailed activist who is on a nearly two-month hunger strike to Denmark for medical treatment on humanitarian grounds.

Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who is a Danish citizen and has been refusing food since Feb. 8, is serving a life sentence for his role in last year's uprising by the island nation's Shiite majority against a Western-backed Sunni monarchy.

The Bahrain News Agency reported Sunday that the Supreme Judicial Council refused to hand him over to Denmark because the law prevents transfers of "accused and convicted persons to foreign countries."

U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters that "in cases where there is a hunger strike the health and well-being of the person should be the foremost concern." He added that Ban hopes Denmark's offer "would be duly considered on humanitarian grounds."

Bahrain's opposition supporters have been staging daily rallies for al-Khawaja's release, frequently clashing with security forces. His declining health has prompted appeals from groups such as Amnesty International, which last week urged Bahrain to free him because of fears he could die.

The Danish government said last week it has been "exerting maximum efforts" to have al-Khawaja sent to Denmark for medical treatment.

Al-Khawaja, 52, is a former Middle East and North Africa director of the Ireland-based Frontline Defenders Rights organization.

He was arrested last April during a government crackdown on dissent and is one of seven opposition figures sentenced to life imprisonment in a special security court, which was set up after Bahrain imposed martial law last March to quell political unrest.

Al-Khawaja's lawyers appealed his conviction in Bahrain's highest court last week when judges refused to release him on bail.

Nesirky said "the secretary-general has consistently urged authorities throughout the region, including Bahrain, to respect the rights of their people to peaceful protest."

"The secretary-general expects due process to be respected in any appeal of the conviction," he said.

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