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Case History: Zainab Al-Khawaja

Status: 
Released
About the situation

On 31 May 2016, judicial authorities in Manama ordered to suspend the sentence against human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja and release her on "humanitarian grounds”. She was jailed in Isa Town Women’s Prison with her one-year-old son, for over three months. Charges brought against her include "destroying public property" after she tore up a picture of the King of Bahrain twice.

 

About Zainab Al-Khawaja

zainab_al-khawajaZainab Al-Khawaja is a Bahraini human rights defender and democracy activist. She is also a leading social media activist and has been a leading figure in the pro-democracy uprising that started in Bahrain in February 2011.

2 June 2016
Human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja released

On 31 May 2016, judicial authorities in Manama ordered to suspend the sentence against human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja and release her on "humanitarian grounds”. She was jailed in Isa Town Women’s Prison with her one-year-old son, for over three months. Charges brought against her include "destroying public property" after she tore up a picture of the King of Bahrain twice.

Zainab Al-Khawaja is a human rights defender who spent much of 2013 in prison, solely for peacefully exercising her right to freedom of expression and protesting against human rights violations carried out by the state. She has been calling for democracy in Bahrain, the release of political prisoners, and for the respect of human rights, as well as regularly reporting on abuses and poor prison conditions on her twitter account.

On 14 March 2016, Zainab Al-Khawaja was arrested from her house and was taken to Isa Town Women’s Prison with Abdulhadi, her 15 month old baby. She was sentenced to over three years imprisonment on several charges involving her tearing up a picture of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain. This came after the fifth anniversary marking Bahrain's uprising on February 2011 in Manama and the violent crackdown against human rights defenders and protesters.

On 21 October 2015, an appeals court reduced one of Zainab Al-Khawaja's previous five prison sentences from three years to one year. In another sentence in 2014, she initially received a three year prison sentence and a fine of 3000 Bahraini Dinars for tearing up a photo of Bahrain's monarch. In total she was sentenced to three years and one month for multiple convictions.

While Front Line Defenders welcomes the release of human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja, it remains concerned that charges including "destroying public property" remain outstanding against her and the human rights defender risks arrest and imprisonment at any moment.

Zainab Al-Khawaja's father, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, is one of Bahrain’s most prominent human rights defenders and a former Protection Coordinator at Front Line Defenders. He is currently serving a life sentence for his peaceful participation in the 2011 protests. In 2014, Zainab Al-Khawaja's sister, Maryam Al-Khawaja, was sentenced in absentia to a year in prison, on charges of assaulting police officers when she arrived in Bahrain in August, a charge she denies.

14 March 2016
Police seize Zainab Al-Khawaja and her 15 month old child from home

On 14 March 2016, Bahraini human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja was arrested in her house along with her one-year-old son by security officers. She has been held in custody in a local police station with her baby before being transfered to Isa Town Women’s Prison. She faces three years and one month in prison on several charges including "destroying public property" for exercising her right to free expression by tearing up pictures of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

Zainab Al-Khawaja is a human rights defender who spent most of 2013 in prison solely for peacefully exercising her right to freedom of expression and protesting against human rights violations carried out by the state. She has been calling for democracy in Bahrain, the release of political prisoners, and for the respect of human rights, as well as regularly reporting on abuses and poor prison conditions on her twitter account. Her father, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, is one of Bahrain’s most prominent human rights defenders and a former Protection Coordinator at Front Line Defenders. He is currently serving a life sentence for his peaceful participation in the 2011 protests. In 2014, Zainab's sister, Maryam Al-Khawaja, was sentenced in absentia to a year in prison on charges of assaulting police officers when she arrived in Bahrain in August, a charge she denies.

On 14 March, fifteen riot police jeeps headed to Zainab's house, closed off the entire street in front of her apartment building and presented an arrest warrant against her. Her arrest followed a raid at her parents-in-law's home that took place earlier that afternoon, in search for Zainab. She was taken to Al-Hoora police station with Abdulhadi her 15 month old baby, where she was detained. Zainab has reported to her family that she will be taken to the Ministry of Interior for a medical check up before being transfered to Isa Town Women’s Prison, where she is currently placed. The human rights defender is facing over three years imprisonment on several charges involving her tearing up pictures of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain. This comes after the fifth anniversary marking Bahrain's uprising on February 2011 in Manama and the violent crackdown against human rights defenders and protesters.

On 21 October 2015, an appeal court reduced one of Zainab's previous five prison sentences from three years to one year, after she initially received a three year prison sentence in 2014 and a fine of 3000 Bahraini Dinars for tearing up a photo of King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa of Bahrain.

Front Line Defenders reiterates its concern about the arrest and on-going judicial harassment against Zainab Al-Khawaja. Front Line Defenders believes that the on-going proceedings against her are solely motivated by the human rights defender's peaceful and legitimate activities in calling for political and democratic reform in Bahrain.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Bahrain to:

  1. Ensure the immediate release of Zainab Al-Khawaja, as Front Line Defenders believes she is being detained solely as a result of her peaceful and legitimate human rights work;
  2. Take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of Zainab Al-Khawaja and her baby while in detention;
  3. Cease the campaign of judicial harassment and persecution against Zainab Al-Khawaja, and guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Bahrain are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.
21 October 2015
Zainab Al-Khawaja Sentence Reduced; Still Faces Arrest and Imprisonment

On 21 October 2015, Bahraini human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja's 32nd birthday, an appeals court reduced one of her five prison sentences from three years to one year.

Al-Khawaja, who was not in court today, is facing a number of trumped-up charges related to her peaceful and legitimate human rights activism, for which she has already spent over a year in prison. She has played a crucial role in documenting and publicizing human rights violations in Bahrain, and has faced arrest, harassment, imprisonment, and psychological abuse for her work in defense of her community.

For tearing up a photo of her country's dictator, King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa, Zainab received a three year prison sentence in 2014 and a fine of 3000 Bahraini Dinars (approx. $8000 US). Today, the appeals court upheld the fine, and postponed another three appeals hearings to 3 December 2015.

Maryam Al-Khawaja, Co-Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights and Zainab's sister, explained to Front Line Defenders:

“It's important to recognize that this fine is more than a financial burden on Zainab and our family. If she is unwilling or unable to pay it, it can be converted into a prison sentence. In past Bahraini cases, the rate has been one day in prison for every five dinars in unpaid fines. If Zainab cannot or will not pay this at the end of her sentence, she could be given another year and a half in prison.”

The sentence reduced today only accounts for one of the four that the court was meant to hear. The three other cases were postponed for a ruling on 3 December. Two of these carry charges of two months in prison each, handed down on 9 December 2014, for “destroying public property” when she ripped a picture of the King at Budaiyah police station. The third postponed appeal is for a one year prison sentence on the charge of “insulting a public official” (a police officer). [Photo: Scanpix] Photo: Scanpix

In addition to today's reduced sentence and three postponed cases, the human rights defender is also due in court on 17 November to hear the appeal of a nine-month sentence for entering a restricted area at Jaw Prison while seeking to visit her father. Another case of insulting a public official, for which she was sentenced to six months, will also be heard on 17 November.

Because today's sentence was reduced but not suspended, Bahrain security forces can arrest Zainab at any time. She continues to live at home with her 10 month old son, Abdulhadi, 6 year old daughter, Jude, and her husband, with the knowledge that she and her infant could be put in jail at any time.

According to Maryam Al-Khawaja:

“In the long term, today's ruling does mean less prison time for Zainab – unless of course she receives more charges, which is always possible. But in the short term, and for her children, nothing changes. Jude can still have her mother taken from her at any time, without warning. And as soon as Zainab goes to prison, her baby boy will go with her.”

In Bahrain, infants can remain with their mothers in prison until they are two years old. The Kingdom has the highest rate of incarceration per capita in the Middle East, and, despite international standards calling for the specialized care of children in prison, including those incarcerated with their mothers, the Bahraini authorities have subjected children to the same poor conditions that hundreds of other prisoners face. In this instance, Zainab's son faces spending his first birthday in prison due to the government's efforts to silence and cease the legitimate human rights work of his mother.

Zainab Al-Khawaja is a leading figure in Bahrain's human rights movement, who spent most of 2013 in prison for peacefully protesting against the regime. Her father, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, is one of Bahrain’s most prominent human rights defenders and a former Protection Coordinator at Front Line Defenders. He is currently serving a life sentence for his peaceful part in the 2011 protests. In 2014, Zainab's sister, Maryam Al-Khawaja, was sentenced in absentia to a year in prison on charges of assaulting police officers when she arrived in Bahrain in August, a charge she denies.

25 November 2014
Provisional release of human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja

On 19 November 2014, human rights defender Ms Zainab Al-Khawaja was provisionally released after more than one a month in detention for tearing up a photograph of the King.

The verdict for this case is expected to be issued on 4 December 2014. Verdicts for a further three cases relating to “sabotaging properties belonging to the Ministry of Interior” and “insulting a public official” are expected to be issued on 9 December.

Zainab Al-Khawaja was initially arrested on 14 October 2014, during a court hearing where she faced charges related to tearing up a photograph of the King of Bahrain.

15 October 2014
Human rights defender Ms Zainab Al-Khawaja arrested

On 14 October 2014, human rights defender Ms Zainab Al-Khawaja was arrested during a court hearing where she was expected to face charges related to tearing up a photograph of the King of Bahrain.

Witnesses at the trial reported that Zainab Al-Khawaja, who is almost nine months pregnant, addressed the court defending her right to protest “against oppression and oppressors". She then tore up a photograph of the King of Bahrain and placed it in front of the judge. The court was dismissed, and Zainab Al-Khawaja was placed under arrest and taken to Alhoora police station, where she was allowed to telephone her family.

There are currently five court cases against Zainab Al-Khawaja, following eight previous cases against the human rights defender.

19 February 2014
Human rights defender and pro-democracy activist Zainab Al-Khawaja has been released from prison

Bahraini human rights defender and pro-democracy activist Zainab Al-Khawaja, imprisoned on a variety of concurrent charges since February 2013, was released from prison Sunday.

A key figure in Bahrain's protest movement, she has drawn worldwide attention to the peaceful protests in Bahrain through her Twitter postings and other online media platforms. The human rights defender has also been campaigning since April 2011 for the release of her father, Mr Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, a prominent human rights defender and former Front Line Defenders Protection Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa.

According to the BBC, Ms Khawaja told journalists on Sunday that, “one year in prison is nothing.” Adding, “we have a cause... This will not stop us."

Ms Khawaja has expressed concerns on Twitter that the she will be rearrested when she appears in court again Wednesday on separate charges.

26 June 2013
Human rights defender Ms Zainab Al-Khawaja given new jail term

On 25 June 2013, human rights defender Ms Zainab Al-Khawaja was sentenced to two additional months in jail on charges of assaulting two policewomen inside the prison. She is currently in detention in Hoora Detention Centre, where she has been serving three previous sentences on charges of taking part in an illegal gathering, unlawful entry to Pearl Roundabout, and insulting a police officer. She was due to be released at the end of 2013, but the new sentence means she will remain in detention until February 2014.

Zainab Al-Khawaja was charged with assaulting two policewomen inside the prison, after she tried to defend a fellow prisoner from the actions of the police officers. The court rejected the defence lawyer’s request to obtain CCTV footage from the prison authorities, which would have demonstrated Zainab Al-Khawaja’s innocence. Although the two policewomen confirmed the existence of CCTV in the prison during their testimonies, the court rejected the request on the basis of a letter issued from the prison administration stating that there was no CCTV.

During the first court session, which took place on 11 June 2013, the court also rejected the defence lawyer’s request that the letter from the prison administration be included in the court file. The court issued the sentence in the following session, on 25 June 2013, without giving the lawyer the opportunity to rebuke the content of the said letter.

23 May 2013
Sentencing of human rights defenders Zainab Al-Khawaja and Naji Fateel

On 22 May 2010, Bahraini courts sentenced, in separate proceedings, human rights defenders Ms  Zainab Al-Khawaja and Mr Naji Fateel.

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 27 February 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 14 February 2013. 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 this month. The latest sentencing means she will be in detention until the end of August.

In a separate trial, Naji Fateel was sentenced to six months imprisonment on charges of attending illegal gatherings. He had initially been charged with the establishment of a group for the purpose of disabling the constitution under article 6 of the controversial Terrorism Act. The human rights defender was arrested on 2 May 2013 and held incommunicado for three days, during which time it is reported that he was tortured.

1 March 2013
Arrest of human rights defender Ms Zainab Al-Khawaja, while Court of Appeal rejects two appeals against prison sentences

On 27 February 2013, human rights defender Ms Zainab Al-Khawaja was arrested by security forces during a peaceful sit-in in front of the Royal Palace in Al Qudaybiyah. Meanwhile, on 28 February 2013, the Court of Appeal rejected an appeal lodged by the human rights defender against a sentence of two months imprisonment, while an appeal against another one month imprisonment sentence was also rejected by the Court. She currently remains in detention in Hoora Detention Centre.

On 27 February 2013, Zainab Al-Khawaja was arrested while protesting against the authorities' refusal to hand over the body of Mr  Mahmoud Issa al-Jaziri, a pro-democracy activist killed during a demonstration on 14 February 2013 marking the second anniversary of the uprising in Bahrain.

The activist was reportedly killed after being hit in the head by a tear gas canister, when security forces reportedly attacked demonstrators in Nabi Saleh, South of Manama..

On 28 February 2013, in a seperate development, the Court of Appeal rejected two appeals against prison sentences filed by Zainab Al-Khawaja. The first appeal related to a verdict issued on 10 December 2012, which sentenced Zainab Al-Khawaja to one month of imprisonment. The sentence was based on charges of alleged participation in an unauthorised demonstration on 12 February 2012 and the alleged unlawful entry to Pearl Roundabout, which the authorities reportedly consider as a restricted area, despite the absence of an official decision or law confirming the area as restricted.

As Zainab Al-Khawaja has already served eight days of the above-mentioned sentence, 22 days of detention remain. The second appeal related to a sentence of two months imprisonment issued against the human rights defender, on charges of allegedly destroying property belonging to the Ministry of Interior. Both rejection of both appeals could result in Zainab Al-Khawaja serving a total period of two months and 22 days imprisonment.

Zainab Al-Khawaja has been campaigning since April 2011 for the release of her father, MrAbdulhadi Al-Khawaja, a prominent human rights defender and former Front Line Defenders Protection Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, who is serving a life sentence passed following a grossly unfair trial.

As a result of her human rights work, Zainab Al-Khawaja has been subjected to a number of previous acts of judicial harassment. For more information on previous acts of judicial persecution faced by Zainab Al-Khawaja, please see Front Line Defenders' urgent appeals issued on 16 February 2012 and 20 December 2011.