Bahrain: Urgent Action: Bahrain: Help Free GCHR Founding Directors Nabeel Rajab and Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja as their health suffers behind bars


The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) is seriously concerned for the health of its two Founding Directors Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab, who are suffering behind bars. Both men require urgent medical attention as Rajab is recovering from surgery last week, while Al-Khawaja is in danger of losing his eyesight, in addition to other risks to his health as he begins a hunger strike.

On 12 April 2017, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja began an open ended hunger strike with water only to protest the degrading treatment and deteriorating situation inside the prison as well as the ongoing arbitrary arrests and detention, according to Al-Khawaja’s family. His health has already suffered from previous hunger strikes in prison, including one lasting 110 days. Al-Khawaja, who is also the founder and former President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), is among a group of prisoners known as the “Bahrain 13” who were sentenced to prison in 2011 for their human rights and pro-democracy activities. He is serving a life sentence.

Al-Khawaja is also still in need of urgent access to medical care to prevent lasting vision loss. At the end of March, Al-Khawaja’s daughter, Maryam Al-Khawaja, GCHR Special Advisor on Advocacy, reported: “For the past three weeks my father has been having serious problems with his right eye. After daylight he loses complete vision, and during the day he can't see well. He has headaches on the right side of his head and behind his right eye.”

The family consulted a Norwegian specialist who considers the symptoms to be “consistent with severe eye disease that needs immediate attention by an ophthalmologist.” In addition, the doctor warned: “Sometimes episodes like this can be a warning sign of more severe episodes, like a large emboli that does not get removed and can cause lasting loss of vision in the eye or even cerebral strokes.”

However, prison officials have now placed limits on medical visits for the Bahrain 13; and Al-Khawaja refuses to go to the doctor in shackles. He wrote to the authorities asking if they scheduled a new appointment and if they will allow him to go without the shackles and the invasive full body strip search. Al-Khawaja also suffers pain in his face from severe torture which resulted in metal plates and nails being inserted. They were supposed to have been removed in 2015 but there has been no effort to arrange this surgery.

The GCHR’s other Founding Director, Nabeel Rajab, is also suffering in jail. A day after undergoing surgery for a bleeding ulcer on his back on 05 April 2017, Rajab was returned to West Riffa police station, where is routinely held in solitary confinement. According to his family, after the surgery Rajab “was forced to stay with dirty clothes with blood all over it and denied any hygienic products for two days.” He has “a deep and open wound which causes severe pain and needs constant care and what’s worsening the situation is that he has a weak immune system.” On 08 April, he was rushed to the police hospital, where he remains for treatment of his infected wound. He should not have been taken back to jail after surgery due to the risk of infection.

Rajab is also the President of BCHR and Deputy Secretary General of FIDH. He was arrested on 13 June 2016 and faces up to 18 years in prison in two cases, among other cases related to tweets and media interviews about human rights violations. He is next due in court on 16 May for a case related to media interviews, for which he is facing three years in prison. That case was postponed from 16 April, during the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix, to 3 May, World Press Freedom Day and then again to 16 May.

In a separate case related to tweeting about the Saudi-led coalition bombing of Yemen and torture in Jaw prison, for which he faces 15 years, Rajab will appear in court on 17 May for the 12th hearing in this case. For more info, see:

The GCHR notes that Rajab’s next hearing was postponed from the day of the Bahrain Grand Prix, which it suspects was deliberate, in order not to draw attention to the case nor to allow the possibility that journalists or human rights observers might attend the trial. GCHR joined other NGOs who wrote to Formula One asking for the race to be cancelled if they cannot guarantee the safety of civilians: 

Woman human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja, who was forced into exile in 2016 after being freed from jail, has regularly protested against the Grand Prix, including to draw attention to her father Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja’s imprisonment. She said last week: “Bahrain advertises the Grand Prix by inviting people to come enjoy ‘the sun, sand and sea.’ People who go to watch the Grand Prix should remember that … thousands of Bahrainis are unfairly kept in prison who also love the sun, sand and sea, but who go days and months without ever seeing them.”

Bahrain is up for review in May 2017 during the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR Third Cycle). In a joint submission to the UPR’s 27th session working group, GCHR, BCHR and CIVICUS highlighted Bahrain’s targeting of human rights defenders, journalists, and others. The joint submission called attention to the extreme restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly in Bahrain and the failure of the authorities to implement recommendations related to freedom of expression that Bahrain had accepted in the last UPR cycles. See:

Take Action Now!

The GCHR asks supporters to please tweet in English or Arabic calling on the authorities in Bahrain to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally free Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab from prison;
  2. While they remain in prison, allow Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab unhindered access to medical care, including immediately transferring them to the hospital; and
  3. Guarantee in all circumstances that human rights defenders in Bahrain are able to carry out their legitimate activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.

Use the hashtags #FreeNabeel and #FreeAbdulhadi

Minister of Interior

Shaikh Rashid bin ‘Abdullah Al-Khalifa


Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs

Shaikh Khalid bin Ali bin Abdullah Al-Khalifa


Cc. UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Michel Forst @ForstMichel

UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression David Kaye @davidakaye

UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Maina Kiai @MainaKiai_UNSR

United Kingdom Foreign & Commonwealth Office Human Rights Communications team @FCOHumanRights

United States State Department @StateDept