Many torture victims have historically used the protest method of hunger striking to fight for change
As of this blog’s posting, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja has been on hunger strike for 90 days in protest of his detention and treatment in Bahrain. The use of hunger strikes has a long history for the politically powerless to advocate for change. Photo available through Creative Commons license.
Currently, in Bahrain Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja remains on hunger strike – day 90, according to the organisation that he founded, the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights.
Guarded by the Bahrain Defence Force, Al-Khawaja has not consumed food in about three month in protest of his ongoing mistreatment – both torture at the hands of military and police officials, and judicial mistreatment by the military court that found him guilty and delivered a life sentence for his involvement in last year’s protests. He further accused authorities of force feeding him during recent weeks, an accusation that they, of course, deny.
Hunger strikes have a long history among political dissidents, detainees, and, most oftentimes, the politically powerless to advocate or coerce authorities into policy changes. It can be both a powerful tool for enacting change, and, by its nature, can also be extremely dangerous and even deadly for its participants. Some famous examples of hunger strikers include:
• Women on both sides of the Atlantic protesting for equal suffrage during the early 20th century;
• Irish republicans in particular have a long history of hunger striking; but this tactic was famously used during the early 1980s by Bobby Sands and other prisoners of the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland. Ten hunger strikers died in 1981;
• Among the longest and most deadly strikes were those that took place in Turkey, with the final wave beginning in 2000, over the government’s prison policy – the state was building new prisons that the protesters feared would be used for long-term solitary confinement for political dissidents, regardless of whether they had even been formally charged with a crime.
• At Guantanamo Bay, hunger strikes have been ongoing since 2005, when more than 120 detainees were on hunger strike at one point. Since then, this number has varied as the U.S. government has continued to force feed the strikers. It is unknown how many detainees remain on hunger strike today.
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