SHAFAQNA – The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Bahrain.
The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the ongoing judicial harassment against Ms. Zainab Al-Khawaja, human rights defender and blogger known for her participation in peaceful gatherings calling for reforms and the respect of human rights in Bahrain.
According to the information received, on October 21, the Bahrain Court of Appeals reduced the sentence against Ms. Zainab Al-Khawaja to one year imprisonment while upholding a fine of 3,000 BHD (approximately 8,000 USD), on charges of “insulting the King”. The latter had been sentenced to three years imprisonment in first instance. As per Bahraini law, if Ms. Al-Khawaja is unable or unwilling to pay the fine, the sentence will turn into an additional year and a half in prison. Ms. Al Khawaja can be arrested at any time.
Besides, the Court adjourned the appeal case concerning the charges of “destroying public property” and “assaulting a police officer” to December 3, 2015. Ms. Al-Kawaja had been sentenced to 16 months imprisonment in first instance (see background information).
The Observatory deplores the ongoing judicial harassment against Ms. Al-Khawaja as it seems to merely aim at sanctioning and hindering her human rights activities. The Observatory calls on the Bahraini authorities to drop all charges against her and reiterates its concern about the pattern of harassment against members of Ms. Al-Khawaja’s family.
The Observatory more generally calls on the Bahraini authorities to put an end to all acts of harassment – including at the judicial level – against all human rights defenders in Bahrain, and to comply with all international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Bahrain, in particular the United Nations (UN) Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998.
Ms. Zainab Al-Khawaja is the daughter of Mr. Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who was sentenced on June 22, 2011 by the National Safety Court – a military court – to life imprisonment for his peaceful human rights activities. On January 7, 2013 Bahrain’s highest court upheld the convictions against 13 leading activists for their role in anti-government demonstrations in 2011, including Mr. Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concerns about the lack of fairness and due process afforded to these activists. The court ruling came more than a year after the government’s pledge to implement the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), which called on authorities to “commute the sentences of all persons charged with offences involving political expression not consisting of advocacy of violence” and to overturn convictions imposed after grossly unfair trials.
Mr. Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja was subjected to a severe level of torture starting from the time of his arrest on April 9, 2011. He is currently being held in Jaw prison. He has repeatedly gone on hunger strikes to protest his imprisonment and conditions of detention.
On December 16, 2011, Ms. Zainab Al-Khawaja staged a sit-in to call for reforms and more rights at Abu Saiba roundabout and was joined by several women. The riot police fired tear gas canisters to disperse them. Ms. Al-Khawaja continued her sit-in peacefully and refused to move until she was shot at directly with a tear gas canister. She was then handcuffed, dragged across the pavement by her handcuffs, had her hijab removed and was slapped by a female police officer. She was further cursed and beaten in the police station. She was then released pending investigation.
On February 27, 2013, she was again arrested during a peaceful sit-in to protest authorities’ refusal to hand over the body of a man who was killed during a demonstration on February 14, 2013. She was taken to Al Hoora police station, where she was charged with “obstructing traffic”, “damaging public property”, “prejudice to authority” and “inciting hatred of the regime”.
On February 27, 2013, the Third High Criminal Court upheld a one month imprisonment sentence against her on charges of “participating in an illegal gathering” and “entering a restricted zone”, i.e. the Pearl Roundabout, in relation to a February-2012 protest. The same court also upheld another two-month imprisonment sentence previously rendered by the Lower Criminal Court on charge of “damaging Ministry of Interior property”, after Ms. Al-Khawaja had torn a photograph of the King of Bahrain, although she had already served that sentence after a previous arrest. As a result, the Public Prosecution announced in a statement that Ms. Al-Khawaja was to start serving her sentence on February 28, 2013, for a total of three months and 20 days. In addition, on the same day, the Court of Appeal overturned the acquittal ruled by the Court of First Instance on May 2, 2012 in another case related to charges of “insulting a police officer” in a military hospital, and sentenced Ms. Al-Khawaja to three months imprisonment. Ms. Al-Khawaja was protesting inside the Bahrain Defence Forces hospital when her father, Mr. Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, was on hunger strike in that hospital.
On May 22, 2013, Ms. Al-Khawaja was again sentenced to three months in jail on charges of “taking part in an illegal gathering” and “insulting a police officer” in reference to the December 2011 protest. At the time, she had been serving the two above-mentioned sentences and was due to be released at the end of May 2013.
On January 27, 2014, the Criminal Court issued a new sentence in absentia against Ms. Zainab Al-Khawaja, where she was sentenced to four extra months of imprisonment in two new cases in which she was accused of destroying property of the Ministry of Interior during her detention at Isa Town police station in May 2013, after she ripped up a picture of the King of Bahrain.
On February 16, 2014, Ms. Zainab Al-Khawaja was released from prison. At the end of August 2014, she was briefly detained when she went to the hospital to visit her father after he was transferred there from the prison.
On December 4, 2014, Ms. Zainab Al-Khawaja was sentenced to a three-year prison term for “insulting the King”, as well as being subject to a fine of 3,000 BHD (approx. 7,285 Euros) for tearing up a photo of the King of Bahrain before the Court in October 2014. The court set bail for 100 BHD (approx. 240 Euros) and she was released pending the outcome of the appeal.
On December 9, 2014, the Court of Appeals sentenced her to 16 months in prison on charges of “destroying government property” and “insulting a police officer” whilst in detention in 2012. Although Ms. Zainab Al-Khawaja is not currently detained, the sentence may be executed at any time.
On June 2, 2015, Ms. Zainab Al-Khawaja was sentenced in first instance to nine months’ imprisonment on charges of “entering a restricted area” and “insulting a public servant”. A bail of 300 BHD (approx. 707 EUR) was paid to suspend the implementation.
The Observatory urges the authorities of Bahrain to:
i. Drop all charges against Ms. Zainab Al Khawaja and put an end to any act of harassment, including at the judicial level, against the Al Khawaja family, as well as against all human rights defenders in Bahrain;
ii. Release Mr. Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja immediately and unconditionally as his detention is arbitrary since it seems to merely sanction his human rights activities;
iii. Conform in any circumstances with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, in particular:
its Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually or in association with others, to promote the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels” ;
its Article 6 (c) which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others to study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters” ;
and its Article 12.2 which states that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”.
iv. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Bahrain.
· Cheikh Hamad bin Issa AL KHALIFA, King of Bahrain, Fax: +973 176 64 587
· Cheikh Khaled Bin Ahmad AL KHALIFA, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tel: +973 172 27 555; Fax : +973 172 12 6032
· Cheikh Khalid bin Ali AL KHALIFA, Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs, Tel: +973 175 31 333; Fax: +973 175 31 284
· Lt. Gen. Cheikh Rashed bin Abdulla AL KHALIFA, Minister of Interior, Tel: +973 17572222 and +973 17390000. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
· Permanent Mission of Bahrain to the United Nations in Geneva, 1 chemin Jacques-Attenville, 1218 Grand-Saconnex, CP 39, 1292 Chambésy, Switzerland. Fax: + 41 22 758 96 50. Email: email@example.com
Please also write to diplomatic representations of Bahrain in your respective countries.