Mar 02, 2023

Urgent Appeal: Al-Khawaja taken to emergency hospital due to urgent heart issue, denied access to cardiologist

2 March 2023 

  • Al-Khawaja informed his family that he was taken by ambulance to an emergency room on the eve of 28 February due to an urgent heart issue, which puts him at immediate risk of both heart attack and stroke.
  • Al-Khawaja was transferred by ambulance from Jau Prison, where Al-Khawaja is serving a life sentence after being arbitrarily detained in 2011 and tortured, to the emergency room at the Bahrain Defense Force (BDF) Hospital. 
  • Despite the recommendation of the emergency doctor, Al-Khawaja was refused an appointment with a cardiologist, putting his life at risk.


    • On an urgent phone call on the 1 March 2023, Al-Khawaja informed his daughter Maryam, that he had suffered from intense elevated and rapid heart beats, as well as heavy breathing the evening before.
    • Upon being examined, which included an electrocardiogram (ECG), at the prison clinic at Jau Prison, the prison doctor decided to move Al-Khawaja immediately by ambulance to the emergency room at the Bahrain Defense Force (BDF) Hospital. The doctor had noted that Al-Khawaja’s heart rate was at 130 despite it having slowed down since the episode began. The doctor did not give Al-Khawaja any information about his ECG, but looked anxious and insisted he be transferred to the emergency room immediately.
    • At the BDF Hospital, Al-Khawaja was examined by an emergency doctor, who performed an ECG, as well as other tests. The doctor gave Al-Khawaja an IV injection after which Al-Khawaja started slowly recovering. 
    • The doctor stated that Al-Khawaja must be urgently referred to a cardiologist, however, they (unspecified) refused to book the necessary appointment and sent Al-Khawaja back to prison. 
    • While at the hospital, and despite the seriousness of Al-Khawaja’s condition, a plain clothed man came to where he was being treated, said he was the head of security and insisted Al-Khawaja be chained on his hands. This was in direct violation of previous medical orders, and an infringement of the agreement Al-Khawaja had with the prison administration. In response to this, Al-Khawaja had to leave his hospital bed to protest this order which successfully prevented it from happening. Al-Khawaja believes that the refusal to book his cardiology appointment was an act of reprisal for his protest against being chained.
  • UPDATE: Al-Khawaja called his daughter, Maryam, today and told her that he agreed to be transferred to the hospital for his eye check up without handcuffs. Before being transported they forcefully put handcuffs on him, making them extremely tight, and as he was telling Maryam how they forcefully took him to a military barracks outside the BDF hospital, they cut the telephone line and he did not call back.
  • Al-Khawaja was previously tortured at the BDF hospital. The first time was when he was first arrested in 2011 and had to undergo a long major surgery due to the fractures in his face from the violent arrest in front of his family. The second time was in 2012 when he was force fed during his 110 day hunger strike. Force feeding constitutes an inhuman and degrading treatment amounting to torture according to The World Medical Association (WMA).
  • Al-Khawaja has been subjected to heightened stress and anxiety due to the constant harassment and reprisals by the prison authorities,the guards and the judicial system; which has included denial of access to adequate medical treatment as well as psychological harassment. 

Prof Damian McCormack, surgeon at Temple Street, Dublin, Ireland, commented on Al-Khawaja’s heart issue

“I am very alarmed at the news that Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja has been refused cardiology assessment and denied treatment while suffering from a symptomatic cardiac arrhythmia, possible atrial fibrillation, which puts him at immediate risk of both heart attack and stroke. Furthermore, the fact that they atttempted to place him in chains and denied treatment in an R.C.S.I training hospital in Manama, (Bahrain Defence Forces Hospital) should be of the highest concern to the Irish Medical Council who have recently accredited that institution for medical training despite multiple allegations of torture in the recent past, including that of Al-Khawaja himself.

Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja should immediately be transferred to a tertiary level cardiac care unit for diagnostics and treatment. I am anxious to facilitate his medical evacuation to Ireland if possible and hope that senior RCSI staff in Bahrain can encourage the regime to authorise the same.”


Maryam Al-Khawaja, Al-Khawaja’s daughter, commented

“How can this feel like anything but the Bahrain regime trying to murder my father? As he was trying to tell me what was happening with him they cut the call twice. I sat there for a long time staring at my phone hoping he would call again. I am constantly in a state of anxiety waiting for that call that something happened to my father in their notorious prison, and this latest news has now increased my anxiety ten fold. My father is dying in their prisons, and the international community, especially the EU and Denmark, have failed him time and time again to serve their own short sighted interests. It is freedom loving people like my father and our family that bear the brunt of the cost of those interests. I do not want my father released to our family in a coffin. We need Bahrain’s allies, namely the West, to move before it’s too late.”  


Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja is a prominent human rights defender and Danish-Bahraini citizen  who was detained in 2011 in Bahrain after leading peaceful protests calling for fundamental  freedoms and rights in Bahrain. Almost 12 years later, he remains at Jau Prison facing dire  prison conditions and systematic denial of medical treatment.

In November 2011, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry documented in a report  that Al-Khawaja was subjected to torture and sexually assaulted by security forces in 2011. The torture occurred, among other places, at the Bahrain Defense Force (BDF) Hospital.

In December 2022, an overwhelming majority in the European Parliament passed an resolution recognizing that Al-Khawaja suffers from a series of chronic and degenerative health problems, including extreme back pain and impaired vision, which is a direct consequence of his imprisonment, torture and deprivation of access to medical care. The  European Parliament furthermore acknowledged that the prison authorities at Jau Prison have been denying Al-Khawaja adequate medical treatment.

In April 2022, Amnesty International and Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) raised concern over the ongoing medical neglect of Al-Khawaja, which, among other things, could lead to the risk of blindness for Al-Khawaja.

The inadequate treatment of Al-Khawaja follows a shocking pattern of medical negligence in Bahrain’s prison system, where patients are denied specialist care and pain medication, as revealed by Amnesty International in September 2018.