Detained human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja begins hunger strike
On the 7th anniversary of the peaceful popular movement of the Bahraini people which started on 14 February 2011, the NGOs called on the international community to help free human rights defenders in Bahrain, some of whom are jailed for life, and to stop the persecution of journalists simply for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly. On 05 February 2018, Abdulhadi's wife Khadija Al-Mousawi tweeted that she visited her husband who has been targeted and abused in Jaw prison and has been taken to hospital in shackles.
On 9 April 2011, Bahraini authorities arrested al-Khawaja as part of a campaign of repression following pro-democracy protests during the country's 2011 uprising. Two months later, on 22 June 2011, a Bahrain military court sentenced the human rights defender along with eight other activists to life imprisonment.
Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja is a former Middle East and North Africa Protection Co-ordinator for Front Line Defenders and former President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR). He is the founder of Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR). He is also a member of the International Advisory Network of the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, headed by former Irish President Mary Robinson. He has previously worked with Amnesty International, and was named as ‘Activist of the Year’ in 2005 by the Arab Program for Human Rights Activists.
On 16 November 2021, woman human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja sent out a series of tweets on her personal Twitter account revealing the health situation of her father, prominent Danish-Bahraini human rights defender, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who is serving a life-sentence in Jaw Prison, Bahrain. It is reported by some family members that the human rights defender is on hunger strike in objection to having his right to make phone calls withheld.
Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja is 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 which was passed following a grossly unfair trial. He is also the founder of Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) and a member of the International Advisory Network of the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, headed by former Irish President Mary Robinson. He has previously worked with Amnesty International, and was named as ‘Activist of the Year’ in 2005 by the Arab Program for Human Rights Activists.
On 16 November 2021, it was revealed by woman human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja that her father, human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawja who is serving a sentence in Jaw Prison, Bahrain, was starting a hunger strike to oppose the decision made by the prison administration to restrict his right to make phone calls. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja has not been able to see his family and the phone calls were the only way for the human rights defender and his family to maintain contact.
This is not the first time that Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja has gone on hunger strike to protest the ill-treatment he has suffered in detention. On 29 January 2012, the human rights defender started an open-ended hunger strike to protest against his brutal arrest and detention, his torture while in custody, and the life sentence handed down after his unfair trial before a military court. This hunger strike lasted for 110 days and the human rights defender was reportedly drugged and force-fed through painful procedures.
Front Line Defenders urges the Bahraini authorities to allow Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja to have immediate and unconditional access to his family, and take all measures to guarantee his physical and psychological integrity and security. Front Line Defenders also urges the Bahraini government to immediately drop all charges against Abdulhadi Al- Khawaja and release him as it believes he is being detained solely as a result of his peaceful and legitimate human rights work.
On the 7th anniversary of the peaceful popular movement of the Bahraini people which started on 14 February 2011, the undersigned NGOs call on the international community to help free human rights defenders in Bahrain, some of whom are jailed for life, and to stop the persecution of journalists simply for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.
Bahrain now has a reputation as one of the few countries in which all well-known human rights defenders (who are not already in jail or in exile) have been banned from working freely or travelling. This is designed to isolate the human rights movement and cut its links with the international mechanisms in particular the United Nations. A collective travel ban is essentially imposed on all human rights defenders, preventing them from participating in the activities of the three sessions held each year at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva. Likewise, international NGOs and journalists, along with UN experts, cannot freely visit Bahrain.
Human Rights Defenders in Jail, Victims of Torture and Ill-Treatment
Bahrain’s most prominent human rights defenders are in jail, facing ill-treatment. On 05 February 2018, Khadija Al-Mousawi tweeted that she visited her husband, prominent human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who has been targeted and abused in Jaw prison. He has been taken to hospital in shackles.
"When I went to visit my husband he was talking about going to the hospital chained," she tweeted. "I expected him to say that he felt humiliated, but he said the opposite. He was walking very slowly because of the weight of chains and the chain distance between the feet, but he was raising his head having a nice feeling.”
Al-Khawaja is the Founder and Former President of both the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), as well as the former MENA Protection Coordinator for Front Line Defenders. He has been held in Jaw prison since his sentencing to life in prison in 2011, along with other human rights defenders and activists, including blogger Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace, who collectively make up the Bahrain 13.
In the past year, Al-Khawaja and other prisoners of conscience have protested repeatedly about the deteriorating conditions in Jaw Prison, which mimic the general deterioration of conditions in Bahrain for human rights defenders and civil society.
After he sent a letter to the Ministry of Interior in November 2017 about the conditions in prison, Al-Khawaja was also denied the right to make any phone calls until 17 December, which appears to be a reprisal against him for raising his complaint.
Another prominent human rights defender who has been ill-treated in detention (including being returned to unsanitary conditions following surgery, which resulted in an infection) is Nabeel Rajab, GCHR’s Founding Director, Co-Founder and President of BCHR, FIDH Deputy Secretary General and a member of the Human Rights Watch MENA Advisory Board. On 15 January 2018, the Court of Cassation upheld the two-year prison sentence against Rajab for talking with various media outlets about human rights issues. On this sentence alone, he will remain in prison until December 2018, even though he has now been incarcerated already for 20 months since his arrest on 13 June 2016.
One of the things that Rajab is accused of falsely stating is that journalists and NGOs are banned from entering the country. However, it is hard to dispute that the country is not only closed in term of civic society space, but equally not accessible for the international human rights observers. Among those NGOs which have not received permission to enter the country are signatories to this letter including FIDH, Front Line Defenders and GCHR, which has been waiting for the green light to enter the country to do a human rights mission since 2012.
In another case, Rajab is being prosecuted over two charges both related to tweets and retweets posted in 2015 about the war in Yemen and also about allegations of torture in Jaw prison after a prison riot in March 2015. The first charge is “insulting a statutory body” (Article 216 of the Bahraini Criminal Code) referring to the Ministry of Interior in relation to tweets he posted denouncing the torture of detainees at Jaw Prison. The second charge is “disseminating false rumours in time of war” (Article 133 of the Bahraini Criminal Code) in relation to tweets he published about the Saudi-Arabia led coalition air strikes in Yemen. A verdict is expected at the next hearing on 21 February 2018 and Rajab faces imprisonment of up to 15 years if convicted.
Women human rights defenders are not spared torture and abuse in prison. On 22 October 2017, Ebtisam Al-Saegh, the monitoring and documentation officer of Salam for Democracy and Human Rights, was released from prison pending trial. Al-Saegh was held in solitary confinement in Isa Town Women’s Prison since her arrest on 03 July 2017 and subjected to harsh interrogation. The Public Prosecution ordered Al-Saegh to be incarcerated for six months pending investigation under the anti-terrorism law. In July 2017, a group of UN experts expressed “deep concern at the alleged arbitrary detention of Bahraini human rights defender Ebtisam Alsaegh amid reports she has been tortured and sexually abused and is now on hunger strike.”
In a previous incident, on 27 May 2017, Al-Saegh was arrested and suffered torture and abuse at the hands of the National Security Agency (NSA). She was summoned to Muharraq police station for questioning about her human rights activities and then tortured and sexually abused by members of the NSA. The security officers also threatened to murder her and her children. She was released seven hours later but had to go directly to hospital suffering from a “severe nervous breakdown.”
During the interrogation in May, she was asked about the work of activists inside and outside Bahrain, and about her human rights work in Geneva during the UN HRC sessions.
In 2017, the security authorities arrested and tortured many human rights defenders and then released them after forcing them to pledge to stop their human rights activities. Other people who were interrogated at Muharraq police station subsequently renounced their activism on Twitter and stopped tweeting. Only Al-Saegh strongly condemned these illegal practices, describing them on Twitter as a "crime against humanity."
All human rights defenders in Bahrain are either in prison or exile, or prevented from freely working or travelling, such as Zainab Al-Khamees, banned from travel since November 2016, and Nedal Al-Salman, BCHR’s Acting President, banned from travel regularly since May 2016, preventing her from attending UN HRC sessions. Al-Salman has been accused of illegal gathering and was interrogated four times, with charges remaining against her. The ban has been lifted twice and re-imposed, often for unknown reasons.
On 25 January 2016, human rights defender and board member of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR) Naji Fateel was among 57 prisoners sentenced to additional 15-year terms for allegedly being involved in disturbances in Jaw prison in March 2015. The public prosecutor accused the men of having “unleashed acts of chaos, riots and rebellion inside (prison) buildings,” and they were charged with “damaging public property, attacking police, arson and resisting authorities,” among other offences. Fateel was already serving a 15-year prison sentence for “establishing a group for the purpose of disabling the constitution,” and has been in prison since May 2013. He was badly tortured in prison, and it is believed that his imprisonment stems from his human rights work, including his interactions with the UN.
Journalists Tortured and Jailed, Media Shut Down
Journalists in Bahrain are not able to work freely and have suffered terribly for covering human rights violations. Journalist Nazeeha Saeed, former correspondent for France 24 and Radio Monte Carlo Doualiya, reported being tortured in 2011. She is no longer able to work as a journalist in Bahrain and forced to leave the country. On 18 July 2017, an appeal court in Manama upheld the sentence imposed for “working without a license” against Saeed. She was fined 1,000 Bahraini dinars (approx. USD$2650). Saeed was charged with unlawfully working for the international media under Article 88 of Law 47/2002. Saeed had applied for renewal of her license but her application was rejected without any basis. It was the first time in 12 years that her accreditation was not renewed. She was also placed under a travel ban.
Previously, Saeed was arrested and tortured in May 2011 after covering protests. She was repeatedly beaten and subject to electro-shocks 10 times while in police detention. One of the policewomen responsible was brought to trial but acquitted in October 2012. In November 2015, authorities decided against charging other identified officers because of “insufficient” evidences.
On 30 October 2017, human rights defender and “Al-Wasat” journalist Mahmoud Abdul-Ridha Al-Jazeeri was sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment and his nationality was ordered to be revoked. On 28 December 2015, Al-Jazeeri was arrested during a raid on his home by security forces in plain clothes. His arrest came one day after he wrote an article reporting on the regular consultative (Shura) council’s session, during which an MP asked authorities to punish Bahrainis who had their citizenship revoked on political grounds by depriving them of government housing. He was charged with supporting terrorism, inciting hatred of the regime, having contacts with a foreign country, and seeking to overthrow the government by joining Al-Wafa and the February 14 Youth Movement. He was subjected to ill-treatment in detention including being blindfolded and not being allowed to sit or sleep for almost three days. He is appealing the sentence.
On 24 June 2017, “Al-Wasat” newspaper notified its employees in an e-mail of the decision to lay off all 160 staff members. On 04 June 2017, Bahrain’s Information Affairs Authority (IAA) suspended “Al-Wasat” for allegedly violating the law and repeating the publication of and broadcasting news that stirs up the community and affects the relations of the Kingdom of Bahrain with other countries. The suspension relates to an article published about protests in Morocco on 04 June 2017, which was accused of “abuse of one of the Arab countries."
Editor-in-Chief Mansoor Al-Jamri said, "After 15 years of journalism, we reaffirm that the success of “Al-Wasat”’s unique project would not have been achieved without the confidence of its constituents, which it considered a civilised means of reform, a bridge of understanding, cooperation, coexistence and acceptance of opinion and the opposite opinion, depending on the loyalty to the whole nation of all groups of society, while adhering that is internationally acclaimed to media professionalism." He added, "The most important of all: honesty in saying and acting."
Recommendations to the International Community:
We, the undersigned NGOs, appeal to the United Nations mechanisms, the European Union, in addition to all governments with influence - in particular the United States and the United Kingdom - to apply serious pressure on Bahrain to demand the immediate release of all detained human rights defenders as well as all prisoners of conscience; and to protect public freedom, in particular freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and freedom of association; and to stop the security forces from practicing any form of torture or ill-treatment on detainees, a practice which is well documented in recent years and regarded as systematic in Bahrain.
We further call on the Bahrain authorities to allow the UN Special Rapporteurs on human rights defenders, freedom of expression and torture to visit Bahrain immediately in order to meet representatives of civil society, meet detainees, assess the human rights situation in the country as well as to convey their recommendations to solve the crisis facing human rights defenders and journalists.
In addition, we call on the government of Bahrain to fulfill its promises made during Bahrain’s Universal Periodic Review to uphold international standards protecting the rights to freedom of expression and assembly, including by taking immediate steps to:
- Overturn the convictions, following unfair trials, of demonstrators and human rights defenders and activists, including Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, Nabeel Rajab, Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace and Naji Fateel, and immediately and unconditionally free them;
- Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of all human rights defenders in Bahrain, bring an end to the practice of torture and ill-treatment in prison, police stations or secret locations and bring perpetrators to justice immediately;
- Allow human rights defenders to work freely inside of Bahrain, and travel abroad, including by removing travel bans against Nedal Al-Salman, Zainab Al-Khamees, and Ebtisam Al-Saegh;
- Allow foreign NGOs, journalists and UN representatives to freely visit Bahrain;
- End the harassment of journalists and allow all journalists to carry out their work without fear of reprisals;
- Respect the right to freedom of expression and opinion for all people in Bahrain, as guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Bahrain Constitution.
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
FIDH, under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Front Line Defenders
Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
OMCT (World Organisation Against Torture), under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
One of Bahrain’s most prominent human rights defenders, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who is serving a life sentence for his human rights work, has protested unfair prison regulations. We, the undersigned, call for his release from prison, and barring that, for improved standards in Jau prison.
Al-Khawaja is the Founder and Former President of both the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), as well as the former MENA Protection Coordinator for Front Line Defenders. He has been held in Jau prison, since his sentencing in 2011, along with other human rights defenders and activists including blogger Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace who collectively make up the Bahrain 13.
In the past year, Al-Khawaja and other prisoners of conscience have protested repeatedly about the deteriorating conditions in prison, which mimic the general deterioration of conditions in Bahrain for human rights defenders and civil society.
Since 16 October, all of the prisoners’ belongings have been confiscated, reportedly for the purposes of being searched. When Al-Khawaja and others asked for the confiscated items to be returned, they were told “they are still under investigation." On 10 November, the prison authorities restricted all access to television, radio, books, and there are no independent newspapers available. Now, the only newspapers prisoners infrequently receive are government-backed. In addition, family visits have been further restricted so that prisoners are barely able to have a meaningful conversation. At the same time, all phone calls are closely monitored. Meanwhile, prisoners have also lost access to pens or paper, and all daily activities have been cancelled.
This complete restriction from all independent outside information, and increased restrictions on limited family contact leaves the prisoners feeling completely cut off from the world while facing further constraint in their daily lives. These steps have reportedly come at the direction of the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Interior.
The undersigned are gravely concerned about Al-Khawaja’s claims that the main purpose of these restrictions is “primarily an act of retribution and secondarily for the of isolation - what the authorities are doing is tantamount to psychological warfare.”
After he sent a letter to the Ministry of Interior in November about the conditions in prison, Al-Khawaja was also denied the right to make any phone calls until 17 December, which the undersigned groups believe appears to be a reprisal against him for raising his complaint.
In Al-Khawaja’s letter to the Ministry of Interior, he expressed that:
- Even in oppressive countries that arrest, torture and try people, the authorities do not come back after six or seven years to retaliate against the prisoners who are essentially being held hostage because of things happening outside the prison and even outside the country.
- What is happening is not a sign of strength and courage, but rather evidence of weakness and fear. It is proof that the person in power is feeling unstable, and because he cannot face the world he retaliates against people he's already holding hostage.
- If you think that your actions will affect our determination and spirit, then you are committing a big mistake. On the contrary, it only strengthens our will and makes us more intent on continuing down the path we've chosen because it reaffirms the righteousness of our cause.
Al-Khawaja and the other high profile activists and human rights defenders have sent many letters of protest about these and previous prison restrictions, including the denial of medication and proper access to healthcare. We the undersigned are alarmed at reports that restrictions to proper medical care are ongoing despite numerous complaints by prisoners as well as international NGOs, the United Nations and other governments.
Yet every letter the detainees send receives a response dismissing their complaints by contending that the prison authorities are acting "according to the regulations."
According to Bahrain’s prison rules, male prisoners have the right to two hours of family visits a month (one hour bi-weekly) and a three-hour monthly visit for their spouses. In addition to violating their own prison rules, the government of Bahrain’s treatment of Al-Khawaja is in violation of a number of international legal principles.
In particular, the prison authorities have failed to meet the standards set forth by the United Nations in the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (known also as the Nelson Mandela Rules). Rule 43 states that collective punishment is prohibited as torture or cruel treatment, and that the restriction of family contact cannot be used as punishment and can only be limited as strictly necessary for maintenance and order of the prison.
The interference with family visits, the confiscation of paper and writing instruments, and the revocation of phone use is in violation of Rule 58, which provides that prisoners are entitled to contact with their family, in writing, telecommunications, and in-person visits.
The removal of the television, radio, and newspapers is in violation of Rule 63, which requires that prisoners be informed regularly of important news items. The confiscation of books is also in violation of Rule 64, which states that every prison should keep a library for the use of prisoners. Bahrain has failed to meet each of these minimum standards.
The current situation in Bahrain is dire. Human rights defenders are in jail, banned from travel, are in exile or are being intimidated to prevent them from working. Many human rights defenders have been called for interrogation and some have been abused and tortured, leading to some even announcing their intention to quit their human rights work.
CALL TO AUTHORITIES
We the undersigned call on the authorities in Bahrain to:
- Immediately and unconditionally free Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and other human rights defenders from prison;
- Provide proper access to medical care and sanitary conditions in prison;
- Allow Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and all prisoners proper access to families; and
- Guarantee in all circumstances that human rights defenders in Bahrain are able to carry out their legitimate activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)
Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
CIVICUS, World Alliance for Citizen Participation
FIDH, under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Front Line Defenders
Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
World Organisation Against Torture, under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Please circulate a link to this appeal using the hashtag #FreeAbdulhadi
Minister of Interior
Shaikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al-Khalifa
Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs
Shaikh Khalid bin Ali bin Abdullah Al-Khalifa
Front Line Defenders and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) hosted a public gathering in Dublin in solidarity with the prominent human rights defenders, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab, who are both imprisoned in Bahrain on fabricated charges related to their peaceful human rights activities.
On 12 April 2017, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja began an open ended hunger strike, accepting only water, in protest of the degrading treatment against prisoners and the deteriorating conditions inside the prison coupled with ongoing arbitrary arrests and detentions, according to Al-Khawaja’s family. Resulting from previous hunger strikes, his health has already diminished significantly. One of these hunger strikes lasted for 110 days during which time he was force fed against his will. Al-Khawaja, who is a founding Director of GCHR, a former Front Line Defenders MENA Protection Co-ordinator, and also the founder and former President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), is among a group of prisoners known as “the Bahrain 13”. These men were sentenced to prison in 2011 for their human rights and pro-democracy activities. He is serving a life sentence.
Nabeel Rajab, is also a GCHR founding Director, and suffering in jail. A day after undergoing surgery for a bleeding ulcer on his back on 05 April 2017, Rajab was returned to West Riffa police station, where he is held in solitary confinement. According to his family, after the surgery Rajab “was forced to lie in the bloodied clothes in which he was operated on, without being cleaned and denied any hygienic products or change of clothes for two days.” He has “a deep and open wound which causes severe pain and needs constant care, and worsening the situation is that he has a weakened immune system from pre-existing medical conditions and lack of adequate medical care.” On 08 April, he was rushed to the police hospital by ambulance, where he remains for treatment of his infected wound. He should not have been taken back to jail after surgery due to the ongoing risk of infection. Rajab is also the President of BCHR and Deputy Secretary General of FIDH.
Khalid Ibrahim, Executive Director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights, began the meeting, which comprised a panel of experts, by highlighting the hard work of Abdulhadi and Nabeel in defending human rights both inside and outside of Bahrain. He explained that the imprisonment of Abdulhadi was never the end of his human rights work, but conversely it gave more impetus to it. He added that Nabeel has been targeted on false charges solely due to his international renown as a distinguished human rights figure.
Andrea Rocca, Deputy Director of Front Line Defenders spoke about the exemplary efforts of Abdulhadi when he was the MENA Protection coordinator at Front Line Defenders and reminded us that his court case fell short of international standards for fair trial and due process. He also mentioned the targeting of Nabeel merely because of tweets criticising government policies.
Professor Damian McCormack talked about his visit to Bahrain as a member of the Irish Delegation in July 2011 and his meeting with Nabeel Rajab in Manama. He also referred to the multiple violations perpetrated against medical workers for upholding their Hippocratic Oath in treatment of peaceful demonstrators during the protests at that time, and administering medical care irrespective of the background of the injured people, as is the duty of those who adhere to the rules of medical neutrality. He made a public call for the medical evacuation of both Abdulhadi and Nabeel to receive the appropriate treatment in Ireland, where he can assist with their health care as a matter of immediate urgency due to the critical conditions that they are currently in.
The final panelist was Tara Reynor O’Grady of Human Rights Sentinel, who first read the statement issued by MEP Marian Harkin which was sent from Brussels and who supported Professor McCormack’s medical evacuation initiative, along with Professor Thomas Collins ex-President of RCSI in Bahrain, and Professor Eoin O’Brien of University College Dublin who had also accompanied the 2011 Irish Delegation to Bahrain. She also expressed the determined and continuing support of the Irish people for the right to self-determination for the people of Bahrain and mentioned the multiple practical achievements that have been made in partnership with many active NGOs and concerned governments.
The meeting concluded with a round of questions from the floor and answers which focussed on the possibility of a medical evacuation and other options to provide the necessary health care that both men so urgently need.
Bahraini authorities have cancelled an appointment that human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja was due to have with an ophthalmologist to treat problems with his vision. Over the previous three weeks, Bahraini authorities had granted the human rights defender access to medical care on the condition that a full body strip-search could be conducted before his appointments. The human rights defender has been experiencing temporary loss of vision in his right eye, as well as headaches on the right side of his head and behind his right ear.
On 21 March 2017 the family of Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja obtained a letter from an ophthalmologist which stated that the symptoms the human rights defender is currently experiencing “are consistent with severe eye disease that needs immediate attention by an ophthalmologist. Untreated this can lead to lasting reduced vision.” Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who is currently being held in Jau prison, had previously been scheduled to attend an appointment with an ophthalmologist which was cancelled following the human rights defender’s refusal to be subjected to a full body strip-search by Bahraini authorities. This refusal is due to the invasive nature of the search.
Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja is currently serving a life-sentence as part of a campaign of repression exercised by the Bahrain government following pro-democracy protests during the 2011 uprising. Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja was arrested and beaten unconscious by police in Al-Manama on 9 April 2011. Following this arrest he was held in incommunicado detention, brutally beaten, and severely tortured.
Front Line Defenders urges the Bahraini authorities to allow Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja to have immediate and unconditional access to an ophthalmologist, and take all measures to guarantee his physical and psychological integrity and security. Front Line Defenders also urges the Bahraini government to immediately drop all charges and release Abdulhadi Al- Khawaja as it believes he is being detained solely as a result of his peaceful and legitimate human rights work.
Bahraini human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja published a open letter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights via the Gulf Center for Human Rights on Sunday, 10 May 2015.
Al-Khawaja is a Bahraini human rights defender, currently serving a life sentence in the Gulf kingdom. He is the former President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), the founder of theGulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), and a former Middle East and North Africa Protection Co-ordinator for Front Line Defenders.
In his letter, Al-Khawaja reported that abuse, torture, and degrading treatment continue in Bahrain's prisons, and urged the Commissioner to "pressure the Government of Bahrain to allow access to Jaw prison by international bodies."
Read the opening of Al-Khawaja's letter below:
His Excellency Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais Wilson Geneva, Switzerland
Re: Humanitarian appeal from Jaw Prison
Geneva, May 10, 2015,
I started a hunger strike on the 20th of April due to the ongoing violations occurring at Jaw prison where I have been held as a prisoner of conscience for the past 4 years. Building 10 in Jaw prison has become known as the torture building, and I have personally been hearing the screams of the victims.
The type of torture I have heard in the last few months is the worst since 2011, and the violations that have occurred over the past period are indescribable.
The prison administration has systematically attempted to prevent this information from getting out by harassing us during phone calls and family visits. The Government of Bahrain has recently announced a limited “royal pardon” to receive positive international reactions, while the horrific violations in the prisons continue.
Attached to this letter is compiled information about some of the violations at Jaw prison recently in addition to reports written by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty. I have written numerous letters to authorities in Bahrain about the situation in Jaw and informed them of my hunger strike; my letter to you comes after the authorities have refused to address the situation and put an end to the ongoing violations. The letters I sent:
To the prison administration on the 30th of March
The Minister of Interior on the 1st of April
The Supreme Judicial Council on the 6th of April
Follow up letter to the Minister of Interior on the 4th of May
I have heard about your dedication to human rights from family and colleagues, and urge you to pressure the Government of Bahrain to allow access to Jaw prison by international bodies like your office. It will make significant difference to the situation inside Jaw prison if there is public attention from your office on the matter. The crackdown inside Jaw prison continues to the time of writing this letter, and I appeal to you to act quickly.
The full text of Al Khawaja's letter can be found here via the Gulf Center for Human Rights.
A group of MEPs has called for the release of Bahraini human rights defender, Maryam al-Khawaja, who is currently in detention in Manama on trumped-up charges.
On Saturday, 30 August, Maryam Al-Khawaja, daughter of imprisoned human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, and a prominent HRD in her own right, was detained at Bahrain's airport upon her arrival to visit her father in hospital, where he was taken after beginning a hunger strike earlier in the week.
Following the denial of entry on the grounds that she does not have Bahraini citizenship (despite her presenting her Bahraini ID card upon arrival), Maryam was detained and ultimately taken to prison for 7 days of so-called 'investigation'. Her lawyer, Mohammed Al-Jishi has been denied access, but has indicated that charges against her include 'insulting the king.'
The full statement by the group of MEPs is below:
We, Members of the European Parliament, call for the immediate release of prominent Bahraini/Danish human rights defender Maryam al-Khawaja, who was detained upon her arrival in Manama on the 30th of August. Maryam took the decision to fly to Bahrain upon hearing that her father, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who began a hunger strike on August 24, was in danger of slipping into a coma.
Maryam is now being held in remand at Isa Town prison, charged with allegedly assaulting a policewoman at the airport. She was told that she was also facing charges for leading a campaign called Wanted for Justice in Bahrain (which named government officials responsible for torture) and for insulting the King. According to her lawyer, Maryam's Bahraini citizenship has now been stripped.
We consider that these charges are politically motivated and urge the Bahraini authorities to release Maryam unconditionally, along with all other prisoners of conscience - political activists, journalists, bloggers, doctors and paramedics, human rights defenders and peaceful protesters.
We urge the HR/VP and Members States to condemn the on-going violations of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms in Bahrain and publicly press for their release, including at the forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council, and stress the European Parliament's calls for imposing targeted restrictive measures (visa bans and asset freezes) against those individuals responsible for, and involved in, the human rights abuses (as documented by the BICI report).
- Ana GOMES (S&D)
- Christel SCHALDEMOSE (S&D)
- Elena VALENCIANO MARTÍNEZ-OROZCO (S&D)
- Jens ROHDE (ALDE)
- Jeppe KOFOD (S&D)
- Josef WEIDENHOLZER (S&D)
- Margrete AUKEN (Greens/EFA)
- Marietje SCHAAKE (ALDE)
- Morten Helveg PETERSEN (ALDE)
- Ole CHRISTENSEN (S&D)
- Rina Ronja KARI (GUE/NGL)
- Tunne KELAM (EPP)
On 24 August 2014, human rights defender Mr Abdulhadi Al- Khawajadeclared that he was starting an open hunger strike to protest the continuation of his arbitrary arrest and detention.
On Sunday 24 August 2014, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja informed his family of his decision to start a hunger strike on the following day in protest of his continued “arbitrary detention.” The human rights defender has said will refuse all food and drinks except for water. He has also said that he will refuse “to be taken to any hospital, the prison clinic or to receive any IV treatment during his strike,” because he was subjected to forced feeding in hospital during his previous hunger strike..
On 22 June 2011, the National Safety Court sentenced human rights defender to life imprisonment on charges including “organising and managing a terrorist organisation” and “attempt to overthrow the government by force and in liaison with a terrorist organisation working for a foreign country”. The trial before a military court failed to meet international fair trial standards and no credible evidence was presented to substantiate the charges.
Human rights defender Mr Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja was arrested and beaten unconscious by police in Al-Manama on 9 April 2011. He was held in incommunicado detention, brutally beaten, and severely tortured.
On 29 January 2012 human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja started an open-endedhunger strike to protest against his brutal arrest and detention, his torture while in custody, and the life sentence handed down after an unfair trial before a military court. The hunger strike lasted for 110 days and the human rights defender was reportedly drugged and forced fed by painful procedures.
Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja previously, as a result of torture, suffered four fractures to the side of his face that required a four-hour operation. Reportedly, he continues to have health problems from his last hunger strike. Given his pre-existing health problems Front Line Defenders is extremely concerned about the health of human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja.
International human rights organisations and local Bahraini civil society groups call for the immediate and unconditional release of human rights defender (HRD)Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja on the third anniversary of his arrest.
Mr. Al-Khawaja was arrested three years ago today and continues to require medical attention for injuries sustained during his arrest and subsequent torture.
On 09 April 2011, the Bahraini police carried out a violent raid on the home of the HRD during the brutal clampdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in Bahrain. Abdulhadi and two of his sons-in-law were beaten and taken into custody, where they were denied access to family or lawyers.
Abdulhadi was charged with membership of a terrorist organisation and calling for the overthrow of the Government. During his arrest Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja was so badly beaten that he required major surgery on his jaw. Subsequently, he was repeatedly ill-treated in custody, subjected to an unfair trial and ultimately sentenced to life imprisonment, a sentence which was upheld on appeal. At no point were any of the serious and credible allegations of torture addressed.
Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja is a respected human rights defender who for many years has worked peacefully for the promotion and protection of human rights, both in Bahrain, and across the MENA region. He is also former Protection Coordinator for the MENA region with Front Line Defenders and a former president and co-founder of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR).
Mr. Al-Khawaja was sentenced to life in prison in June 2011 by a military court as part of a group of human rights activists and political leaders known as the Bahrain 13. We believe that Mr. Al-Khawaja is being unjustly persecuted for his legitimate human rights activity.
In its September 2012 decision, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that Mr. Al-Khawaja’s arrest was due to his exercise of the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association. According to the Working Group, the charges against Mr. Al-Khawaja—including membership of a terrorist organization— were “vague” and “raise doubts as to the actual purpose of detention.” The Working Group also concluded that throughout Mr. Al-Khawaja’s arrest, detention, and trial, “the Government violated numerous international norms to the right to fair trial.”
The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) further concluded that Mr. Al-Khawaja was subjected to torture and inhumane treatment during his arrest and detention. Mr. Al-Khawaja was severely beaten, resulting in a broken jaw, and later spent two months in solitary confinement where he was subjected to physical, psychological and sexual torture. A full testimony from Mr. Al-Khawaja regarding his torture can be found here.
Mr. Al-Khawaja continues to be denied adequate medical attention and suffers from severe medical complications as a result of his mistreatment in detention. Mr. Al-Khawaja has reported that he has cramps in his facial muscles from metal plates and screws that were set in his jaw after it was broken by security officials in four places in 2011. Mr. Al-Khawaja also continues to experience acute pain due to an injury to his coccyx sustained during torture in 2011.
Mr. Al-Khawaja and his family have repeatedly requested that the various operations he is in need of are performed by an independent doctor due to legitimate concerns about the impartiality of the doctor appointed by the Bahrain Defense Force Hospital, Dr. Al-Muharraqi, who in 2011 stated that Mr. Al-Khawaja was not subjected to torture. It is also deeply alarming that during his most recent examination, Dr. Al-Muharraqi informed Mr. Al- Khawaja that his entire medical file had gone missing from the system. Mr Al-Khawaja’s lawyers have been requesting a copy of his medical files since 2011, as it would serve as evidence of the multiple injuries and medical conditions caused by torture.
Despite his incarceration, Mr. Al-Khawaja and his colleagues continue to be the target of defamation campaigns. On the 27 February, 2014, a 12 minute video published on YouTube accused Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, activist Zainab Al-Khawaja, BCHR PresidentNabeel Rajab and BCHR Acting President Maryam Al-Khawaja of inciting terrorism, “taking the country hostage” and branding them as racists. The video included footage that could have only been obtained from official authorities, including the use of an interview with a police officer which requires the approval of the Ministry of Interior. The video unjustly targets the four human rights defenders as a result of their legitimate activities and could be seen to incite violence against them given the accusations presented.
In an attempt to test the legal procedures of combating defamation of human rights defenders in Bahrain, Mr. Al-Khawaja submitted a complaint to the Jaw Prison Administration which was then submitted to the Public Prosecutor in response to a degrading article about Mr. Al-Khawaja published on 28 May 2013 in the Gulf Daily News (GDN). In response, the GDN published a letter on 22 May 2013 accusing Mr. Al-Khawaja of “instruct[ing] rioters to attack military bases in Bahrain and is one of the master planners for an armed military coup.” Nearly a year later, no steps have been taken to address Mr. Al-Khawaja’s complaint.
Front Line Defenders founder and Executive Director Mary Lawlor said:
"The case of Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja is a stark reminder of the risks human rights defenders run when they confront the arbitrary abuse of power in Bahrain, where the law is used as an instrument of political oppression rather than as a mechanism to defend the rights of citizens."
Ms Lawlor added that, "by any objective standard of justice Abdulhadi Al- Khawaja should be released immediately and unconditionally. While his continuing imprisonment is an indictment of the political and legal system in Bahrain his courage and commitment to the defence of human rights is an inspiration to all of us who know and respect him."
The undersigned civil society and human rights organizations call for the immediate and unconditional release of Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja as well as immediate access to independent medical examination and treatment. In addition, we urge the Bahraini authorities to cease harassment and persecution of human rights defenders including unwarranted defamation campaigns.
- AMAN Network for Rehabilitation and Defending Human Rights
- Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
- Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)
- Bahrain Human Rights Observatory (BHRO)
- Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS)
- Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
- Bahrain Interfaith
- Bahrain Rehabilitation and Anti-Violence Organization (BRAVO)
- Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR)
- Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
- Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)
- CEARTAS – Irish Lawyers for Human Rights
- CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
- European Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights (EBOHR)
- Front Line Defenders
- Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR)
- Gulf Civil Society Associations Forum (GCSAF)
- Human Rights First (HRF)
- International Media Support (IMS)
- Khiam Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture
- Lawyers Rights Watch Canada (LRWC)
- LuaLua Center for Human Rights (LCHR)
- No Peace Without Justice (NPWJ)
- PEN American Center
- Pen International
- The Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND)
- The National Lawyers Guild International Committee
- The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (OMCT-FIDH)
- Tunisian Initiative for Freedom of Expression
On 17 March 2013, human rights defenders Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja andZainab Al-Khawaja began a hunger strike to protest against a new requirement by prison authorities that they wear prison uniforms.
The hunger strike began after authorities refused to allow visits by relatives unless the human rights defenders complied with this new rule. It has been reported that Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja's health is deteriorating rapidly and that he has been refused medical treatment.
Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja is 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.
His daughter Zainab Al-Khawaja is also a prominent human rights defender and a blogger who has been active in calling for political reform and democracy in Bahrain. She currently remains in detention in Hoora Detention Centre.
Former Front Line Protection Coordinator for the Middle East and prominent member of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, Abdulhadi Al Khawaja was sentenced to life imprisonment on 22 June 2011 by a military court in Bahrain. Front Line deplores and condemns the life sentence passed and the sentences handed down to the other 20 activists at the same court sitting including the 15 year prison sentence passed in absentia on blogger and founder of Bahrainonline.org Ali Abdulemam and calls for both men to be acquitted. Abdulhadi Al Khawaja was viciously assaulted and arrested on 9 April 2011and since his arrest he has been reportedly subjected to torture, ill treatment and attempted sexual assault. Fair trial procedures have been grossly and continuously violated throughout his detention and court hearings.
The following is a list of examples of the flagrant breaches of Abdulhadi Al Khawaja's right to a fair trial at the hands of the Bahraini authorities:
1. He was held incommunicado and reported that he was tortured following his arrest.
2. He was denied access to his lawyer during his initial 20 days in detention. This constitutes a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Bahrain is party, namely its Article 14 which requires States to ensure access to full access to legal representation and adequate time to prepare the defence.
3. He was tried before a military court which describes itself as the “Bahraini Lower National Safety Court”. The bringing of civilians to trial before a military court, is in open contradiction of established international jurisprudence. It is also of dubious legality under Bahraini law and the Bahraini Constitution. However, an appeal to the Constitutional Court in this regard was refused by the National Safety Court.
4. The sitting of the Bahraini Lower National Safety Court in Abdulhadi Al Khawaja's trial also appears to be unconstitutional on the basis that, inter alia, some of the charges brought against the defendant had been made before this court was established in accordance with a State of National Safety declared by the King of Bahrain on 15 March 2011.
5. Abdulhadi Al Khawaja attempted to speak at each of his previous trial hearings on the 9th, 12th and 16th of May and make complaints about the torture he claims to have endured. On each occasion he was silenced by the judges who refused to investigate the claims of torture. This constitutes a violation of Bahrain international obligations under Article 12 of the Convention Against Torture (CAT), which it acceded to on 6 March 1998. CAT Article 12 requires States to conduct a prompt and impartial investigation wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed. The visible signs on Abdulhadi Al Khawaja's face provided a strong indication that an act of torture was committed.
6. Abdulhadi Al Khawaja and his family were intimidated by court officials who seemed to consider them responsible for the presence of international trial observers. During the hearing of 12 May, the Al Khawaja family was eventually not allowed to see him in apparent retaliation for the presence of trial observers in the court building.
Front Line is seriously concerned by yesterday's verdict and the denial of Abdulhadi Al Khawaja's right to a fair trial and the denial of such a right to the other 20 activists including human rights defenders sentenced yesterday. Front Line reiterates its call on the Bahraini authorities to immediately release all human rights defenders and to guarantee in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.