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Bahrain: Charges against human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja
Front Line is deeply concerned that human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja is being prosecuted following a speech he made on 7 January 2009 which referred to the human rights situation in Bahrain. Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja is the former President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) and is currently employed by Front Line as Protection Coordinator with responsibility for the Middle East and North Africa (with the exception of Bahrain).
On 7 January 2009, Mr Al-Khawaja was invited to make a speech during Ashora, an annual gathering commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, the third historic Imam of Shia. During his speech, Mr Al-Khawaja referred to the human rights situation in the country, including instances of sectarian discrimination and corruption, and called for resistance to abuses by the ruling regime “by peaceful means and civil disobedience”.
On 21 January, the office of the Attorney General ordered prosecution against Mr Al-Khawaja under articles 29(2), 160, 165, and 168(1) of the Penal Code. He was charged with 'propaganda to overthrow or change the political system by force', 'publicly instigating hatred and disrespect against the ruling regime', and 'willfully broadcasting false and malicious news, statements or rumours and spread provocative propaganda related to the internal affairs of the country that could disturb public security and cause damage to the public interest'.
For these charges, Mr Al-Khawaja could be sentenced to up to ten years imprisonment. The first hearing was held by the High Criminal Court on 8 February 2009 and the hearing was then adjourned to 11 March 2009. On 9 February, while on his way to Iraq on behalf of Front Line, he was prevented from leaving the country.
Front Line believes that the charges brought against Mr Al-Khawaja following the speech made on 7 January represent an illegitimate restriction of his freedom of expression and are motivated by the work he carried out and the critical stances taken in previous years as Predident of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights.
Front Line is seriously concerned at the persistent pattern of repression against human rights defenders and their organisations in Bahrain. During the last few months only, Front Line has issued urgent appeals on a number of cases of harassment against human rights defenders. For example, in October 2008, Nabeel Ahmed Rajab, Abduljalil Alsingace and Maryam Al-Khawaja have been the target of a smear campaign by several local and regional media outlets for attending a human rights seminar in the United States and raising in that forum the human rights situation in Bahrain.
In November 2008, the home of human right defender Ghada Jamsheer was reportedly entered by state security agents while she was attending a conference in South Africa, and both Ghada Jamsheer and members of her family received threats. In February 2009, Ali Hassan Salman and Jaafar Kadhim Ebrahim were arrested following their facilitation of meetings between Amnesty International and detainees.
Front Line is deeply concerned at the systematic harassment against human rights defenders in Bahrain, which is directly related to their legitimate work in the defence of human rights.