Bahrain: Bahrain: Zainab Al-Khawaja freed, but remains at risk of arrest
On 31 May 2016, human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja was finally released from prison, seven weeks after Bahrain’s Foreign Minister promised to free her. However, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) remains concerned that charges against her have not been dropped, and Al-Khawaja remains at risk of re-arrest at any time in order to serve out the rest of over three years of prison sentences.
Al-Khawaja had been in jail with her 17-month-old son Abudlhadi Jr since 14 March 2016 on charges in violation of her right to free expression. A Russian woman was also being detained with her child and both women were released “considering their humanitarian situation and in the interests of their children,” said the authorities.
GCHR Co-Director Maryam Al-Khawaja immediately shared the news on Twitter that her sister “is officially out and on her way home to her children.” (See “Al-Wasat” photo above.) Her son was handed over to his father the day before his mother was released.
On 9 May 2016, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that Zainab Al-Khawaja and a Russian female prisoner would be released as foreign nationals on humanitarian ground because of their children. This followed a statement made on 7 April 2016 after her arrest on 14 March 2016 by the Foreign Minister during a press conference with US Secretary of State John Kerry, in which he said that Zainab Al-Khawaja would be released.
However, Maryam Al-Khawaja reports that “As far as we know, sentences against Zainab have not been dropped, she continues to be at risk of arrest at any time.” This effectively silences her and keeps her from public life. She also added: “Only releasing human rights defenders from prison is not enough; as long as the system that imprisons them remains the same they will always be at risk. Practicing basic rights should not be regarded as a violation of the law.”
Al-Khawaja was sentenced to a total of three years and one month in prison, on a variety of charges including two sentences for ripping a picture of Bahrain’s monarch and one year in prison for allegedly “insulting” a police officer. All charges against Al-Khawaja are related to her exercise of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. For more information see: https://www.gc4hr.org/news/view/1203
GCHR expresses its concern about the ongoing judicial harassment of human rights defenders in Bahrain and reiterates its calls on the authorities to:
- Drop the charges and overturn prison sentences handed down against Zainab Al-Khawaja in all these cases that contravene international law;
- End the judicial harassment of Zainab Al-Khawaja; provide a birth certificate to her son and renew her passport;
- 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; and
- Immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders imprisoned in Bahrain.
Photo credit: Al-Wasat