MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — A Bahrain court heard appeals Monday from defense lawyers for a jailed hunger striker and other activists seeking to overturn their sentences linked to the Shiite-led uprising against the Sunni monarchy in the Gulf kingdom.
The court set the next hearing for April 30 amid claims by the family of hunger striker Abdulhadi al-Khawaja that his health is in sharp decline nearly 11 weeks into his protest. Bahrain officials insist al-Khawaja faces no immediate medical risks.
Al-Khawaja’s case has become a centerpiece of anti-government protests while adding international pressure on Bahrain’s rulers. Earlier this month, Bahrain rejected Denmark’s request to take custody of al-Khawaja, who is also a Danish citizen.
“We consider the situation to be very, very serious,” Foreign Minister Villy Soevndal said in a Danish television interview. “We think we’re talking about days during which action must be taken if anything has to be achieved in this case.”
Al-Khawaja and seven other Shiite activists were sentenced to life in prison last year. The convictions were part of Bahrain’s crackdowns during the more than 14-month-old uprising by the country’s Shiite majority, which seeks to reduce the wide-ranging powers of the ruling Sunni dynasty.
Thirteen other political figures were sentenced — some in absentia — to lesser prison terms and also are part of the appeal.
Neither al-Khawaja nor the other defendants were present at the hearing, which was held under tight security.
At least 50 people have been killed in Bahrain’s unrest since February 2011 in the strategic island nation, which is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.
Opposition groups claim the most recent fatality came during weekend clashes ahead of Sunday’s Formula One Grand Prix, which was canceled last year amid fears over security. Bahraini authorities promised an investigation into the man’s death.
Associated Press writer Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen contributed to this report.
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