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For Immediate Release / Bahrain: Courageous Human Rights Defender Maryam Al-Khawaja Arrested in Bahrain; Could Face Lengthy Prison Sentence

2014-08-31

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) express grave concern over the arrest and detention of courageous human rights defender Maryam Al-Khawaja upon her arrival to Bahrain, on fabricated charges.

 Maryam Al-Khawaja, the co-director of the GCHR who is a Danish-Bahraini citizen, travelled to Bahrain on 29 August 2014 in an attempt to visit her father, leading human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who is currently on a hunger strike in the infamous Jaw prison; his life is in grave danger.

Upon Maryam Al-Khawaja’s arrival in Bahrain, at around 1AM local time in Manama, the authorities apprehended her just outside of the airplane. She was disconnected from communications with her family and lawyer for about 13 hours and no official provided them with any information about her wellbeing. She finally called her mother to inform her that she was being transferred to the public prosecution.

She was interrogated on charges of “assault and battery against on-duty public employees during their performance of official duty.”[1] The public prosecution alleges that she has attacked a lieutenant and another policewoman and injured them when they asked her to hand over her mobile phone. Her lawyer said that the public prosecution denied Al-Khawaja the right to meet with her lawyer before the interrogation and that the lawyer himself was also denied the right to talk to her about her legal rights during interrogation. He has filed a legal complaint to the public prosecution for preventing him from talking to his client before the interrogation. The public prosecution statement confirm that Al-Khawaja was under arrest from the time of arrival and has called her “a female suspect” but didn’t mention the charges related to the initial arrest. The public prosecution has order her detention for seven days pending investigation on the above-mentioned charge.

She was subsequently moved to the Isa Town women prison and placed with two convicted criminals. Her family has not been able to visit her yet, as the authorities are complicating the visit procedure for her. However, she was able to call them.

The officials who held Al-Khawaja at the airport claimed that she is not a citizen of Bahrain, and that she is not allowed in the country. She has never been presented with any documents to this effect, and the authorities refused to provide her with any supporting evidence that she is no longer a Bahraini citizen. She has traveled using her Danish passport and she is holding a valid Bahraini issued smart card.  It is unclear whether the charges brought against her treat her as a Bahraini citizen, or a Danish one.

Upon her arrival, Al-Khawaja stated that she would not voluntarily leave Bahrain, and that she would begin a hunger strike in protest, with her only demand that she be allowed into the country. She refrained from any food, juice, or supplements, but reportedly ended her hunger strike today out of concern for her father, whose health is very fragile. (For more information kindly see: http://bahrainrights.org/en/node/7024 and http://gc4hr.org/news/view/722 )

There is an extremely high degree of urgency for this case and serious concern over the safety and wellbeing of Ms. Al-Khawaja in detention, particularly considering the history of abuse to which the family has been subjected. Ms Al-Khawaja’s father, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, had 36 screws and 18 metal plates put in his face because of the torture and physical violence to which he was subjected following his arrest in 2011 for taking part in peaceful demonstrations calling for reform. Ms. Al-Khawaja’s uncle is also in prison in Bahrain and her sister Zainab has been subjected to repeated arrest, long-term detention, harassment, and physical abuse, including facing ongoing charges in relation to calling for her father’s freedom.

It should be noted that Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja has been on hunger strike for freedom for the past week, since 24 August. The last news of him as of 30 August is that his blood sugar dropped to two and his blood pressure reached 90/55. He took water with glucose and his blood sugar increased to 3.1.

The GCHR and the BCHR are calling for urgent action to demand the immediate release of both Maryam Al-Khawaja and her imprisoned father Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, and to drop all charges against her. They call on the international community, including diplomatic representatives in Bahrain, to press the authorities to free them and ensure they are not abused.

Please refer all questions to:

Mr. Nabeel Rajab

President of BCHR and Director of GCHR

Tel: +447518464113 (this week)

E-mail: nabeel.rajab7@gmail.com