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), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Bahrain.
Description of the situation:
The Observatory has been informed by the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) about the denial of entry into Bahrain and arbitrary detention of Ms. Maryam Al-Khawaja, the co-director of Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR).
According to the information received, on August 30, 2014, Ms. Maryam Al-Khawaja, who is a Danish-Bahraini citizen, was denied entry into Bahrain and arrested upon her arrival at the Bahrain International Airport. Ms. Al-Khawaja was travelling back to Bahrain to visit her father, Mr. Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, former MENA Director at Front Line Defenders and former President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), also holding dual Danish-Bahraini citizenship, who is currently on a hunger strike in the Jaw prison.
Upon arrival at around 1 am local time in Manama, Ms. Maryam Al-Khawaja was denied entry into the country and detained at the immigration area. Security officials claimed that she was not a citizen of Bahrain, and was not welcome in the country. The authorities also confiscated her Danish passport. Despite her protests, she was never presented with any documents to this effect, and the authorities refused to provide her with any supporting evidence that she is no longer a Bahraini citizen. Ms. Al-Khawaja stated that she would not voluntarily leave Bahrain, and that she would begin a hunger strike to protest the unlawful denial of entry into the country. Ms. Al-Khawaja who travelled using her Danish passport, is holding a valid Bahraini ID card.
She was also disconnected from communications with her family and lawyer for about 13 hours and no official provided them with any information about her situation. She was finally able to reach her mother to inform her that she was being transferred to the office of the public prosecution.
Ms. Al-Khawaja was accused and interrogated on charges of “assault and battery against on-duty public employees during their performance of official duty”. The public prosecution alleges that she attacked a lieutenant and another policewoman and injured them when they asked her to hand over her mobile phone. Her lawyer said that the public prosecution denied Ms. Al-Khawaja the right to meet with him before the interrogation and that the lawyer himself was also denied the right to talk to her about her legal rights during interrogation. In that respect, he filed a legal complaint to the public prosecution for preventing him from talking to his client before the interrogation. On August 31, 2014, the authorities transferred Ms. Maryam Al-Khawaja to Isa Town women’s prison for seven days pending investigation on the above-mentioned charges.
At the time of publication, her family had still not been able to visit her.
The Observatory is strongly concerned about the safety and well-being of Ms. Al-Khawaja in detention, particularly considering the multiple abuses to which the family has been subjected during the past years (see background information).
The Observatory strongly condemns the arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of Ms. Al-Khawaja, and calls on the Bahraini authorities to release her immediately and unconditionally, as it seems to merely aim at sanctioning and hindering her human rights activities.
The Observatory more generally reiterates its call 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.
Mr. Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja is the father of Maryam and Zaynab Al-Khawaja who are also human rights defenders. The three are renowned Bahraini activists who have been active in the human rights and pro-democracy movement in Bahrain. Since February 2011 they helped to spread the protesters’ demands and exposed the Bahraini authorities’ repression on the Internet and Twitter.
Mr. Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja 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 Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja. The Office of the United Nations 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 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.
Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja was subjected to a severe level of torture starting from the time of his arrest on April 9, 2011. He is being held in Jaw prison.
On August 24, 2014, Mr. Abdulhadi Al- Khawaja declared that he was starting an open hunger strike to protest the continuation of his arbitrary arrest and detention.
On May 22, 2013, dual Danish-Bahraini national, Ms. Zainab Al-Khawaja, was sentenced to three months in jail on charges of taking part in an illegal gathering and insulting a police officer. The human rights defender was arrested on February 27, 2013, 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. Ms. Zainab Al-Khawaja had been serving two sentences on charges of alleged participation in an unauthorised demonstration and unlawful entry to Pearl Roundabout and was due to be released in May 2013. The authorities have taken Zainab Al-Khawaja to court for charges in more than 13 cases. The latest sentencing meant that she would stay in detention until February 2014.
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 last May, in an indication to her ripping the photo of Bahrain’s King Hamad Isa Al-Khalifa.
Ms. Al-Khawaja mentioned that she was informed about the trial an hour before holding it, and she was only able to call her lawyer five minutes before the trial which was not enough time for the lawyer to attend the hearing.
On February 16, 2014, Ms. Zainab Al-Khawaja was released from prison. On February 19, 2014, she appeared in court and had her trial postponed until March 3, 2014.
At the end of August 2014, Maryam Al-Khawaja’s sister, Zainab Al-Khawaja, was briefly detained when she went to the hospital to visit her father after he was transferred there from the prison.
The Observatory urges the authorities of Bahrain to:
i. Guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Maryam Al-Khawaja and Mr. Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, as well as of all human rights defenders in Bahrain;
ii. Release Ms. Al-Khawaja and Mr. Al-Khawaja immediately and unconditionally as his detention is arbitrary since it seems to merely sanction his human rights activities;
iii. Put an end to any act of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Ms. and Mr. Al-Khawaja, as well as against all human rights defenders in Bahrain;
iv. 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”.
v. 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: email@example.com
· 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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please also write to diplomatic representations of Bahrain in your respective countries.
Paris-Geneva, September 3, 2014
Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.
The Observatory, a FIDH and OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need.