Bahrain: Prominent human rights defenders not among those freed from prison on National Day
On 16 December 2021, Bahrain's National Day, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all human rights defenders and activists detained in violation of their rights to freedom of expression and assembly, including its co-founder Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, and Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace, Hassan Mushaima and Naji Fateel. While welcoming the release of 105 prisoners today who were pardoned by Bahrain’s King, GCHR is bitterly disappointed that once again no prominent human rights defenders were among those released before the end of their sentences.
GCHR and over a dozen human rights partners have been working together on a public campaign and related advocacy for the release of prisoners of conscience. The 'Ten Years On' campaign highlighted the 10th anniversary of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report, on 23 November 2021, with a united call to #FreeBahrainiPrisoners. The campaign focuses on the torture, ill-treatment and imprisonment of human rights defenders, journalists, activists and children, and the Bahrain government’s failure to implement BICI recommendations.
Zaynab Al-Khawaja, GCHR’s Journalists Protection Coordinator, said, "During the last call, my Dad said that what they demand is justice dignity and freedom, not better conditions inside the cages of oppression." Along with her sister Maryam Al-Khawaja, she has been exiled from Bahrain, and they can only see their father Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja via video calls.
Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who also co-founded the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and worked previously for Front Line Defenders, has been in prison for over ten years. Along with other activists, he was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the popular movement in 2011, and needs medical treatment for torture and ill-treatment he suffered in prison.
GCHR’s Executive Director Khalid Ibrahim called on the government of Bahrain to "end the persecution of human rights defenders, who have been treated worse than criminals and silenced simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression."
He said, "It’s long past time for Bahrain to uphold its international obligations and free my colleague and friend Abdulhadi, and others who should not be behind bars."
Among other human rights defenders serving a life sentence in prison is Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace, an academic and blogger, who was tried in the same case as Al-Khawaja, known as the Bahrain 13. Dr. Al-Singace has been on a liquids-only hunger strike since 08 July 2021 to protest the confiscation of a book he spent four years writing on Bahraini dialects and culture, which the authorities refuse to hand over to his family. His health is suffering greatly and he has become frail since refusing to take an IV drip after the authorities cut his regular video calls with his family.
At a press conference today organised by the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) outside of the Bahraini Embassy in London, United Kingdom in solidarity with Dr. Al-Singace and other prisoners of conscience, GCHR’s Advisory Board member Melanie Gingell sent a message that "Human rights defenders shouldn’t have to go on hunger strike to make their voices heard. The UK government needs to speak out more forcefully against human rights abuses in Bahrain."
Bahraini activist and refugee Ali Mushaima has been on hunger strike since 25 November 2021, camping outside the Bahraini Embassy to call for the release of his imprisoned father Hassan Mushaima and Dr. Al-Singace in Bahrain, who were both tortured and imprisoned in 2011 for their peaceful roles in leading calls for democracy. He ended his hunger strike today. The press conference requested support from members of the British parliament before it goes on recess, to call on Bahrain and the UK government to take action.
Follow #FreeBahrainiPrisoners on twitter and circulate the campaign videos on twitter at @GulfCentre4HR and Instagram. Call on Bahrain to #FreeBahrainiPrisoners.