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Update: Bahrain: Another case brought against jailed human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja

2014-10-21

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) has received information that yet another charge, in relation to publicly insulting the King has been brought against human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja, detained since 14 October 2014 in Bahrain. This is the latest charge in a series of ongoing judicial harassment against her. 

 On 19 October 2014, police from Riffa police station arrived at Isa town prison where Zainab Al-Khawaja was being held and brought her before the Public Prosecution. On 21 October, without advance warning, the case was heard by the Lower Criminal Court and Zainab Al-Khawaja boycotted the hearing. The Court adjourned the case until 30 October and ordered her to remain in prison until that date, when the court will pass its sentence.

The charge relates to an incident, which happened on 14 October, when Zainab Al-Khawaja appeared in court to face two charges relating to tearing a photo of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalif. At this hearing she tore a photograph of the King in front of the Judge and was promptly arrested. She was due to appear before the Court on 15 October, to face charges for “insulting a public official”. At the hearing on 15 October, the Public Prosecutor charged her with insulting the King at the previous day’s hearing, and ordered her detention for another seven days (for further information see previous GCHR appeal http://gc4hr.org/news/view/776).

 Zainab Al-Khawaja, who is in her ninth month of pregnancy, is the daughter of prominent human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja. He is currently serving a life sentence in prison, following a grossly unfair trial, for calling for political reforms in Bahrain. She has been subjected to continuous judicial harassment and has been imprisoned and prosecuted on many previous occasions. (For further information see previous GCHR appeal http://gc4hr.org/news/view/775).

In September 2012, she was sentenced to two months in prison for ripping up a photo of King Hamad. In early February 2013, she was imprisoned on charges that included illegal gathering and insulting police officers and then detained for a year. Three additional charges were recently brought against her when she attempted to visit her father at Jaw Prison in August 2014 when he was on hunger strike. The charges are related to “entering a restricted area”, “not cooperating with police orders” and “verbal assault”. This is despite the fact that there were no signs in the prison indicating that she was entering a restricted area and no security guards tried to stop her.  During the visit she was forced to the ground, placed in handcuffs and then transferred to Riffa police station where she was informed of the three new charges against her. She was later released the same day.

The GCHR expresses serious concern at the continuous judicial harassment against Zainab Al-Khawaja and believes it to be a direct result of her peaceful human rights activities and an attempt to hinder her calls for the promotion and protection of human rights and the release of her father.

The GCHR urges the authorities in Bahrain to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally release Zainab Al-Khawaja and drop all charges against her;
  2. Ensure the physical and psychological well-being and integrity of Zainab Al-Khawaja while she remains in detention, including monitoring her pregnancy for health concerns;
  3. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Bahrain are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment. 

The GCHR respectfully reminds you that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, recognises the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of association and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. We would particularly draw your attention to to Article 6 (c): “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others: (c) To study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters“, and to Article 12 (2): “The State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present declaration.”