Margaret Atwood and Ali Smith are just two among a group of leading writers piling pressure on the Bahraini king to intervene in the case of a detained political leader who was stripped of the right to read in jail.
Bahrain’s opposition leader, Hassan Mushaima, 70, was sentenced to life in prison in 2011 on charges of attempting to overthrow the government at the height of the Arab Spring.
In a letter to Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, the group of literary icons urged the monarch to ensure Mushaima receives fair treatment in detention amid reports he had a much-cherished collection of 100 books, dictionaries, and religious texts confiscated while locked up in Jau prison.
It comes as his son Ali enters a 36-day hunger strike outside Bahrain’s embassy in London, where he is calling for his father’s access to healthcare, family visits, and his books.
Ali, 35, who already shed 14kg since starting his protest on August 1, said: “In some ways when you are prisoner, your books are not less important than your life-saving medication.
“While your medicine physically saves your body, the books you have save your mind in a place where life seems to stand still,” Ali told Index for Censorship.
“My father is a researcher and his books where how he spent his days in prison, they gave him purpose. Taking them away from him felt like a new way to suffocate him in his prison.”
The letter calls on the books to be returned to their owner, whose treatment is in breach of the UN resolution whereby “all prisoners shall have the right to take part in cultural activities and education aimed at the full development of the human personality”.
He said his father is in need of vital medical care as he suffers from several serious illnesses.
Bahrain’s embassy in London dismissed the allegations about Hassan’s mistreatment and told Reuters news agency this month he had all the medical attention he required. He was recently given a scan for cancer.
In response to a letter of concern by MP Caroline Lucas, the UK Foreign Office said it raised Mushaima’s detention with Bahrain’s government and said it carries on encouraging it to deliver on human rights.