Bahrain: Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja receives Martin Ennals Award during moving ceremony


Today, prominent Bahraini human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja received the Martin Ennals Award 2022 for human rights defenders at a moving ceremony in Geneva attended by his family and colleagues. Al-Khawaja was not at the ceremony because he is currently serving the 11th year of a life sentence in Jau Prison for his peaceful and legitimate human rights work.

Al-Khawaja, who is 61 years old, is the co-founder of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), which the Martin Ennals Foundation says “were the first of their kind in the MENA region igniting a powerful culture of resistance against authoritarian governments.”

Al-Khawaja’s wife Khadija Al-Mousawi and two daughters Zaynab, and Maryam attended the emotional ceremony in Geneva, where a film was shown about him. Al-Mousawi told GCHR, “This award makes me very emotional because I had expected after 11 long years that my husband would be forgotten by the world. But I see that there are many who still remember him and fight for him.”

Al-Khawaja sent a message from prison paying tribute to his wife. He said, “She has been the main pillar of our family…. Khadija is not just a loving wife and a devoted mother, she has always been a source of wisdom and strength. Khadija has been the one who gave most and suffered the circumstances most, nevertheless she has never wavered or complained.” His family hopes he won’t face further reprisals for sending a message to be played at the ceremony, as he has in the past. He told his family that he wants the award to be used to help shine a spotlight on other prisoners of conscience, especially those that you don’t hear about.

“The defenders who are imprisoned, and my father is not the only one, have their most basic rights eroded,” said Maryam Al-Khawaja, adding “The Martin Ennals Foundation is proving that they are not forgotten.”

Al-Khawaja was brutally arrested at his home on 09 April 2011, tortured and sentenced to life in prison for his role in the peaceful democracy movement protests, as part of a group of human rights defenders and activists collectively known as the Bahrain 13. He has undergone six hunger strikes in prison, where he has continued his activism for prisoners’ rights, among other human rights issues in the region, despite facing reprisals. Neither prison nor persecution have ended his human rights work, which is why he has received the Ennals Award. He has written short stories and books in prison, and issued statements calling for better treatment in prison and for freedom for prisoners of conscience.

“I’m so happy and sad at the same time,” said Khalid Ibrahim, GCHR’s Executive Director, after the ceremony. “I’m so happy that Abdulhadi received this well-deserved award for his peaceful human rights activities, but I’m sad because he remains in prison at a time when he should be celebrated in Bahrain.”

This year, three laureates were honoured with the Martin Ennals Award. The other two are Pham Doan Trang, a prominent journalist and activist from Vietnam, and Dr. Daouda Diallo, a human rights activist from Burkina Faso.

For more information about Al-Khawaja, and to watch the film made about him for the ceremony, visit: