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Denmark 'demands' release of Bahrain activist

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A jailed activist who has been on hunger strike in a Bahrain prison for the last two months is now in a very critical condition, Denmark's prime minister has said.

Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, a Shia activist with dual Danish and Bahraini nationality, was sentenced with other opposition activists to life in jail over an alleged plot to topple the Sunni monarchy during a month-long protest a year ago.

"Denmark demands the Danish-Bahraini citizen and human rights activist Khawaja be freed," said Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt on Tuesday at a press conference.

"According to our information, Khawaja's condition is very critical," she added.

Kwawaja's lawyer Mohammed al-Jeshi told the AFP news agency on Monday that Khawaja was feared to have died, after Bahraini authorities turned down repeated requests to contact him.

The last time he contacted Khawaja was on Saturday, a day after he was moved from the interior ministry hospital into a military hospital in Manama, he said.

Reacting to his statement, Bahrain's interior ministry said later on Monday that Khawaja was in "good health".

UN involvement

A Danish foreign ministry spokesman said Khawaja was alive on Monday according to "credible independent sources" who saw him that day.

Danish ambassador to Bahrain Christian Koenigsfeldt was not allowed to see the prisoner on Sunday or Monday, as he has done daily, the spokesman told AFP.

Denmark has asked Bahrain to send Khawaja to the Scandinavian country but Bahrain's official news agency BNA reported on Sunday that Manama has rejected the request.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said Bahrain should consider the transfer of Khawaja to Denmark on humanitarian grounds.

UN 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".

Western rights groups say Khawaja and 13 other opposition figures in prison for their role in last year's protests are prisoners of conscience and should be freed.

Requests 'refused'

Zainab al-Khawaja, the daughter of Abdul Hadi al-Khawaj, told Al Jazeera that the family had "no idea" about the state of his health as they had not been allowed to call or visit him.

On Monday, his lawyer Mohammed al-Jishi told the AFP news agency: "Authorities have been refusing since yesterday all requests, made by myself and by his family, to visit or contact al-Khawaja."

Jishi said the last time he contacted Khawaja was on Saturday, a day after he was moved from the interior ministry hospital to a military hospital in Manama.

Fahad al-Binali, from Bahrain's Information Affairs Authority, said that it "must be remembered that the convictions against Abdul Hadi al-Khawaja are serious charges".

"Any person who demands reform must understand that the rule of law comes first," he said.

Formula One

Protesters have also demonstrated against plans to host the Formula One Grand Prix this month in Manama.

Last year's race in Bahrain was postponed, reinstated and then cancelled due to the uprising and bloody crackdown.

The governing International Automobile Federation and Bahrain organisers have all said the race is still on for April 22.

But Formula One teams headed to China on Monday for a race on April 15 still unsure whether their return trip would take in Bahrain for the following race amid the safety fears.

Team sources told the Reuters news agency that some had hedged their bets by routing personnel on return flights via Abu Dhabi, Dubai or Oman with alternative reservations for the last leg of the journey back from Shanghai.


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