Paris-Geneva, September 13, 2023 – Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja has been arbitrarily imprisoned for 12 years in Bahrain for his legitimate and peaceful human rights work. His daughter, Maryam Al-Khawaja, who has been living in exile for several years, has announced that she will be going back to the country, despite threats of imprisonment, to visit her father and get him released soon, as his health condition is seriously deteriorating. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights call on the authorities in Bahrain to guarantee her safety and integrity during her visit, and to immediately and unconditionally release Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja.
The Observatory, the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) stand in solidarity with Maryam Al-Khawaja, former GCHR co-Director and member and former President of BCHR, who is bravely going back to Bahrain in hope to get her father, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, released from Jau prison, after 12 years of arbitrary detention. Maryam Al-Khawaja has been advocating for democracy in Bahrain for years, as well as campaigning for her father’s release alongside the rest of her family, and creating the #FreeAlKhawaja campaign on social media to attract more attention to the case. She is facing a great risk of arrest upon her arrival in Bahrain as she has been sentenced, in absentia, to one year of imprisonment under trumped up charges in 2014 by the High Criminal Court. Since then, four cases were brought up against her, adding up to a potential life-sentence.
Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, is the co-Founder of both GCHR and BCHR, and former President of BCHR, both member leagues of FIDH, as well as the former MENA Protection Coordinator for Front Line Defenders. He was sentenced to life imprisonment on June 22, 2011 for politically motivated charges. Since then, he has been subjected to ill-treatment and torture, which include physical, psychological torture, gravely deteriorating his health. Alongside 800 other prisoners, Mr. Al-Khawaja started another hunger-strike on August 6, 2023 to protest his arbitrary detention and the deplorable detention conditions in Jau prison, thus further worsening his health. He stated that prison authorities arbitrarily deny him adequate healthcare and refuse to refer him to specialists for the urgent surgeries he requires, in total violation of internationally recognised standards for the treatment of prisoners. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern over his and the other prisoners’ well being. On September 11, 2023, the prisoners suspended the hunger strike after 36 days, following commitments made by the Bahraini authorities to improve prison conditions. However, on September 13, 2023, after being refused yet another hospital appointment by the prison administration, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja resumed his hunger strike.
The Observatory, BCHR and GCHR recall that Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja was sentenced to life imprisonment, alongside other activists, making them the Bahrain 13. He was arrested on April 9, 2011 for his role in organising peaceful protests to defend human rights and democracy in Bahrain and for engaging in a political reform during the popular ‘Arab Spring’ movements, which began in Bahrain in February, 2011. He was violently detained by security forces as detailed in a report by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) published in November 2011 at the request of the King of Bahrain. He was charged with “organising and managing a terrorist organisation”, “attempt to overthrow the Government by force and in liaison with a terrorist organisation working for a foreign country” and the “collection of money for a terrorist group”, together with 20 other political and human rights activists by the National Security Court of Bahrain. The whole trial went against the internationally recognised principle of a fair trial, clearly illustrating that this is a politically motivated case created to silence the voice of human rights defenders.
The Observatory, BCHR and GCHR urge the Bahraini authorities to ensure the safety and the freedom of Maryam Al-Khawaja during her stay in Bahrain, and to allow her to visit her father in prison.
The signatory organisations further urge the Bahraini authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja as well as all human rights defenders arbitrarily detained in the country, and ensure they are able to carry out their vital human rights work in a safe environment.
The signatory organisations further call on the Bahraini authorities to take urgent actions to ensure that Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja receives adequate and timely medical attention and care, in order to prevent any further health complications.
The Observatory, BCHR and GCHR also remind the Danish government that Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja is a Bahraini and Danish citizen and calls on them, but also on the United States of America government, as Bahraini officials are about to visit the country, to use their influence to put pressure on the Bahraini government for the unconditional release of Mr. Al-Khawaja and ensuring of seriously improved prison conditions in the meantime.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.
The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) is a Bahraini non-profit non-governmental organisation which works to promote human rights in Bahrain. For more than 19 years, BCHR has carried out numerous projects, including advocacy, online security trainings, workshops, seminars, media campaigns and reporting to UN mechanisms and international NGOs. BCHR has also participated in many regional and international conferences and workshops in addition to testifying in national parliaments across Europe, the EU parliament, and the United States Congress.
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) is an independent, non-profit NGO that provides support and protection to human rights defenders (HRDs) in order to promote human rights, including but not limited to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.