Bahrain: European Parliament passes resolution after Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja sentenced in two cases for activism in prison
Prominent human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja was convicted in November 2022 in two cases related to his activism, including protesting against unjust treatment in Bahrain’s notorious Jaw Prison. The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) is concerned that new charges have been lodged against Al-Khawaja at a time when there are expanded efforts to free him so he can receive medical treatment in Denmark, where he is a dual citizen. Among those efforts, we welcome the European Parliament’s urgency resolution calling for his release on 15 December 2022.
Al-Khawaja, a Danish-Bahraini citizen who co-founded both GCHR and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and worked for Front Line Defenders, won the Martin Ennals Prize in 2022. This inspired renewed efforts for his release by his family and supporters. However, instead of freeing Al-Khawaja, the authorities have taken him to court on new charges.
On 28 November 2022, the Second Lower Criminal Court in Bahrain upheld two separate criminal charges levelled against Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who was not taken to court. In the first case, Al-Khawaja was convicted of insulting a public servant, a police officer at Jaw Prison, ordered to pay a fine of 100 Bahraini Dinar (USD$266). In the second case, Al-Khawaja was convicted and fined 60 Bahraini Dinar (USD$160) on the charge of breaking a plastic chair valued at 10 BHD in November 2021 when Al-Khawaja was again denied his right to call his daughters in exile. Al-Khawaja was not given the opportunity to grant power of attorney to his lawyer, and therefore had no official legal representation at either trial in a flagrant violation of due process.
Initially, according to an official court document issued by the Ministry of Interior, the first case included a charge of “insulting a foreign state” – namely Israel. If brought forward, this could lead to up to two years imprisonment and a fine. Given lack of access to the cases, lawyers have not been able to determine if the charge has been dropped or is still pending.
A third case consists of serious criminal charges of incitement to overthrow, or change, the regime and is likely to be overseen by a high court. A court date has not yet been set for this case, which relates to inhumane treatment in late July 2022, when authorities were supposed to take Al-Khawaja to the hospital for treatment for his back. They put him in a small bus with no ventilation that is like an oven, with hard metal chairs, and insisted on shackling him, despite a doctor’s orders that he not be shackled due to his spinal injury. In response, Al-Khawaja started protesting and chanting “down with the Interior Minister”.
Explaining his actions, Al-Khawaja told his daughter Zaynab Al-Khawaja: “Because the Interior Minister is also responsible for the prisons, I hold him accountable for the way I was arrested, for the torture that I was subjected to, for the health issues I have now. When they do all of these things and mistreat us, whenever we say anything as prisoners of conscience, they reply that ‘We have our orders from up top and there is nothing we can do about it.’ What I understand from that, is that the orders they are getting are partly, or all of them, from the Minister of Interior and he is responsible for the situation that we are in.” More info is available at https://freealkhawaja.org/
European Parliament Resolution
At its plenary session in Strasbourg, France on 15 December 2022, the European Parliament passed an urgent resolutionby an overwhelming majority highlighting Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja’s situation, as well as calling for an end to human rights violations in Bahrain, such as the life sentences imposed on human rights defenders and activists, and the increased use of the death penalty. The resolution also called for prison conditions to be improved.
The resolution notes that “the timing of these new charges follows extensive advocacy on Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja’s case at both the UN and EU level, including the case being highlighted in September 2022 in the UN Secretary-General’s annual report on reprisals, in October 2022 in the EU-Bahrain Human Rights Dialogue and in November 2022 in the UN Universal Periodic Review of Bahrain;” and that “for over a decade the Danish government has relied on private diplomacy with the Bahraini government to secure the release of Al-Khawaja without its demand being met.”
The resolution “urges Bahrain to release Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja immediately and unconditionally; highlights that all its prisoners of conscience should be released, including Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace, Naji Fateel, Abdulwahab Hussain, Ali Hajee, Sheikh Ali Salman and Hassan Mshaima, who have been detained and sentenced for merely exercising their right to freedom of expression; calls for all charges against them to be dropped.”
Prominent human rights defender Maryam Al-Khawaja, Al-Khawaja’s daughter, commented: “I welcome this resolution calling for my father’s release and shedding light on the continued human rights violations in Bahrain. My father has been in prison for almost 12 years after being brutally tortured, because he dedicated his life to defending human rights. He should have never spent a day in prison. The Embassy of Bahrain in Brussels threw in its full weight in attempting to put a stop to this resolution, including by smearing my father, but failed. At a time when there is a corruption scandal involving another Gulf State, these MEPs who worked on and passed this resolution showcased the side of the European Parliament that upholds integrity and human rights values.” Read more at FreeAlKhawaja.org
On 8 December 2022, Al-Khawaja phoned his daughter and provided the following medical update: “He was not taken to the last two appointments that he had and he said it was something to do with his skin. He has problems with his skin and has eczema which has to do with being in prison but they refused to take him to both appointments. Regarding his back and his shoulder, because they were refusing to take him to any appointments and there were problems every time and the way that they would take him when they did and because it cause him more pain than getting any kind of help, he says he is not asking for those appointments anymore and that he is doing exercises on his own and trying to take care of it without asking for appointments with doctors.”
Al-Khawaja needs an operation for his face because of the torture. “He said he keeps asking them about that and they just don't give him any answers. It is not a problem with the jaw, he has a problem with the whole left side of his face and the bones that have been broken are all the way from under his eye to the cheek bones to the jaw so it is the whole left side of the face but he said every time he asks them about the operation they don't give an answer.”
GCHR calls on the Bahraini authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and all other human rights defenders and activists imprisoned in violation of their rights to freedom of expression and assembly; and strongly condemns the ongoing violations by the Jaw prison administration of the civil and human rights of prisoners of conscience.
GCHR urges the Bahrain authorities to end the judicial harassment of Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and adhere to international standards of law. While he remains in prison, he should be afforded proper medical care.