Bahrain denies hunger striker's health is critical

The government of Bahrain said on Tuesday that a jailed activist on a two-month hunger strike shows no signs of critical medical problems and has been taking fluids orally or by an IV drip.
The details on the health condition of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja released by the authorities were an apparent attempt to counter growing international pressures on the Gulf state after a judicial panel last week refused Denmark's request to take custody of al-Khawaja, who is also a Danish citizen.
Human rights organizations have urged Bahrain to free al-Khawaja immediately because of fears he could die. A statement by the London-based Amnesty International on Tuesday said the activist's "health is rapidly deteriorating as he passes his 60th day of hunger strike."
Al-Khawaja and seven other opposition leaders were sentenced to life in prison on anti-state crimes last year in a special security court, which was set up after Bahrain imposed martial law last March to quell political unrest. Bahrain's majority Shiites began an uprising in February 2011 seeking a greater political voice.
Al-Khawaja, 52, is a former Middle East and North Africa director of the Ireland-based Frontline Defenders Rights organization. He has been refusing food since Feb. 8.
Bahrain's opposition supporters have been staging daily rallies for al-Khawaja's release, frequently clashing with security forces. The demonstrations have helped fuel rising tensions in the kingdom less than two weeks before it is to stage the Formula One grand prix race _ its premier international event that was canceled last year because of the political unrest.
Al-Khawaja was arrested last April during a government crackdown on dissent in the tiny, but strategically important Gulf island that is the home of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. At least 50 people have died during the 14-months revolt.
The activist's lawyers appealed his conviction in Bahrain's highest court last week when judges refused to release him on bail.
Another appeals hearing for al-Khawaja is set for April 23.