A Bahraini man whose father has been detained for 10 years in the Gulf country will end a 23-day hunger strike outside Bahrain’s embassy in London on Friday after MPs vowed to raise his father’s case in the Commons.
Ali Mushaima said he was suffering from back pain and had found the cold nights on a pavement outside the embassy “tough to take”.
His father, Hassan Mushaima, an opposition leader in Bahrain, was arrested 10 years ago as part of a crackdown in the wake of the Arab spring. Ali Mushaima’s hunger strike is also in protest at the detention of Abduljalil al-Singace, an academic who was moved from prison to a medical centre in July after going on hunger strike himself.
The king of Bahrain pardoned 105 inmates on Bahrain’s national day on Wednesday, but the list did not include any high-profile political prisoners.
The UK has close security and political links with Bahrain, which has been widely criticised for the oppression of its majority Shia population. Bahrain insists it is reforming its judicial system.
Explaining his decision to end his strike, Mushaima, 38, who has two children, said: “I cannot express to you how hard it has been, but my pain is nothing to the suffering that my father and hundreds of other political prisoners in Bahrain have gone through.
“Knowing they are slowly dying, I could not let their pain go unnoticed or for their suffering to remain within a prison wall. I know some people think going on hunger strike is not the greatest idea or that it has no effect, but I can brave this out of the love and respect I have for my father.”
The Scottish Liberal Democrat MP Wendy Chamberlain, who came to support Mushaima as his strike came to a close, said: “No one should have to starve themselves simply to secure the respect for their loved ones’ human rights. Nobody should have to spend a single second deprived of their freedom simply for calling for democracy.”
She pleaded with Mushaima to go home, saying: “Myself and many of my colleagues are seriously concerned for your health.” The issue has also been raised by the Scottish National party MP Chris Law, Peter Bottomley, the father of the house, and Keir Starmer, Mushaima’s constituency MP and the Labour leader.
After Starmer raised the issue with the prime minister in a letter, Boris Johnson replied with a two-paragraph letter that got Ali Mushaima’s gender wrong and said he had passed the issue to the foreign secretary, Liz Truss.
It is the second time Ali Mushaima has been on hunger strike outside the embassy. His previous 46-day strike in 2018 led to the then Foreign Office minister Alan Duncan to call internally for a review of the rules on protests outside diplomatic missions. He called for an exclusion zone outside the embassy, and Bahrain’s leaders complained about the UK’s failure to “protect their London embassy from persistent demonstrators” – a complaint Duncan said in his diaries was “fully justified”.
Bahrain’s officials say they have tried to mediate with Hassan Mushaima, who is 74, including by sending senior interior ministry officials to meet him on 12 September and propose his release subject to two conditions. These conditions were an assurance that there was no gathering in support of him when he was released, and that he remain silent in future about the country’s direction.
His family say that after he rejected these terms, a telephone call between Mushaima and the family that day was cancelled, along with a family visit scheduled for the next day.