Jiu-Jitsu medalist arrested during Bahrain uprising starts hunger strike

Mohamed Mirza reportedly declared a hunger strike in solidarity with a fellow prisoner and opposition leader.

A jiu-jitsu medalist and prominent Bahraini detainee has reportedly declared a hunger strike in solidarity with fellow prisoner Hassan Mushaima.

Mohamed Mirza, who medaled for Bahrain at the 2008 Asian Open Championships in Thailand, launched his hunger strike to protest the treatment of Mushaima, a Bahraini opposition leader serving a life sentence for his role in Bahrain’s pro-democracy protests and uprising. According to Mirza, Mushaima is being denied access to proper medical treatment, which has caused his health to deteriorate.

Mirza is also protesting his own poor treatment at Bahrain’s Jaw prison, which includes lack of access to proper health care and restrictions on family visitations such as glass barriers. He chose to begin his hunger strike after filing five separate complaints with the prison to no avail.

The athlete was arrested on March 16, 2011 — one day after the Bahraini government declared a state of emergency in response to the uprising. He was detained at a checkpoint on suspicion of “kidnapping a police officer” and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Human rights activists believe he was forced to sign a confession after being subjected to various forms of torture at the hands of the Bahraini authorities.

Mirza is not the only athlete who was detained during the uprising. Bahrain has arrested scores of football, handball, and volleyball players since the 2011 uprising. One report from 2014 suggested that approximately 50 athletes were being detained, while another 150 were fired from their positions. Two players from Bahrain’s national team were arrested, publicly humiliated and decried as traitors on television, and were allegedly tortured before being allowed to resume playing for local clubs again, though not for the national team.

Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad al Khalifa, the head of Bahrain’s Olympic Committee and Bahrain’s Supreme Council for Youth and Sports, even backed the regime’s actions by stating publicly on a television broadcast that “anyone who called for the fall of the regime, may a wall fall on his head. Whether he is an athlete, socialite or politician — whatever he is — he will be held accountable. Today is judgment day … Bahrain is an island and there is nowhere to escape.”

Bahrain’s monarchy has long used sports as a tool to distract from human rights abuses and to distort the reality of the regime’s brutality. Examples of this include the annual Formula-1 event, offering Bahraini passports to foreign athletes to improve Olympic record, and hosting MMA events funded by the Bahraini king’s son, Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Khalifa.

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