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Bahraini activist calls for father's release and Gaza ceasefire after cancer diagnosis

Maryam al-Khawaja says Denmark should bring her father home and end its support of Israel after revealing she has Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
Bahraini activist Maryam al-Khawaja poses for a picture near Heathrow airport, west of London, on 15 September 2023 (AFP/Daniel Leal)
Bahraini activist Maryam al-Khawaja poses for a photo near Heathrow Airport on 15 September 2023 (AFP/Daniel Leal)

Maryam al-Khawaja, a prominent Danish-Bahraini human rights activist, says she is using her diagnosis of cancer to call for her father's release and for a ceasefire in Gaza. 

In a video announcement on X, formerly known as Twitter, Khawaja said on Monday that she learned on 30 January that she had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, stage three blood cancer.

"As I fight for my health in this critical time, one truth is very clear: it is time for freedom," she said. "Freedom for my father... and freedom for the Palestinian people."

Maryam called on the Danish government to end arms sales to Israel and to leverage its diplomatic power to help release her father who she said is the only Danish political prisoner in the world.

Abdul-Hadi al-Khawaja, a well-known Bahraini opposition figure, was sentenced to life in prison in 2011 after leading peaceful protests calling for fundamental freedoms in the kingdom.

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Last year, after going on a hunger strike, he was admitted to the ICU at a military hospital with cardiac arrhythmia.

He was among 800 prisoners whom activists said had been on hunger strike for several weeks to protest against the conditions in Jau Prison, where they are locked in their cells for up to 23 hours a day.

In September, Maryam was denied boarding on a flight to Bahrain by British Airways as she tried to return home to raise awareness of the condition of her imprisoned father.

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She said on Monday that she will continue her work while undergoing chemotherapy.

"On the days when I can, I will be staging a sit-in in front of the Danish prime minister’s office with two demands - release my father and stop the arms sales and call for a ceasefire now," she said.

She said after spending years "talking, screaming and yelling to no avail", her sit-in, the first of which will be held on Monday afternoon, will be silent, with anyone welcome to join her.

“My father has always said that the fight for human rights is universal. My father and I are appalled by the fact that civilians in Gaza, some who also have cancer, are currently being bombed and killed," she said. 

"From Bahrain to Palestine, people are forced to live without their loved ones, either because they are wrongfully imprisoned or because bombs are falling above them. It must stop now.”

In 2020, Bahrain was among several Arab countries which normalised relations with Israel as part of the so-called Abraham Accords, brokered by then-US President Donald Trump. 

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