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12 April 2022

Call for the immediate release to Ireland on medical grounds of prominent human rights defender and dual Danish-Bahraini citizen, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja

Front Line Defenders is profoundly concerned for the health of prominent human right defender and dual Danish-Bahraini citizen, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who is currently serving a life sentence in Bahrain for exercising his rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

As a direct result of the well-documented torture and mistreatment the human rights defender endured at the hands of the Bahraini authorities1, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja suffers from a series of chronic and degenerative health problems and requires timely, expert medical treatment. According to recent reports however, between January 2022 and April 2022, necessary medical treatment was actively withheld from the human rights defender by the Bahraini authorities, and access to medical appointments was denied.

Since January 2022, the human rights defender has reportedly been prevented from attending at least two scheduled appointments concerning his deteriorating eyesight and a third appointment concerning his chronic back and hip pain. Additionally, his physiotherapy sessions have been stopped entirely. A series of necessary tests, including a blood test, ordered by the doctor in January 2022 have been repeatedly delayed with prison authorities citing coronavirus as an excuse. On 20 March 2022, blood tests were reportedly administered for every inmate in Al-Khawaja’s cell block, with the exception of Al-Khawaja. Many inmates had no idea why these blood tests were being performed, highlighting the targeted denial of medical treatment to Al-Khawaja.

Front Line Defenders’ call for Al-Khawaja’s immediate release to Ireland on medical grounds is supported by the expert medical opinion of Professor Damian McCormack, BSc, Mch, FRCS (Orth.) who has provided an independent medical assessment of Al-Khawaja’s condition and has advised on crucial next steps. Based on the evidence available, Professor McCormack issued this report on 1 April 2022 and deemed that “Mr. Al-Khawaja’s health is failing with multiple potential problems, all which are amenable to further investigation and treatment. To deny him same would in my opinion be entirely unprofessional from a medical perspective constituting gross negligence in fact.”

Prof. McCormack’s expert medical opinion includes recommendations that Al-Khawaja urgently requires:

    • “full spinal imaging with MRI scan – cervical, thoracic and lumbar imaging which should be reviewed by a competent Orthopaedic Spine Surgeon”;
    • “relevant blood tests, physical examination and possible biopsy by a competent Urological
    • “urgent … Ophthalmic assessment and possibly tentative surgery from a competent
Ophthalmic Surgeon”;
    • “immediate assessment by a competent Maxillo Facial Surgeon for further imaging of the temporo-mandibular joint and possibly revision surgery or further surgery to the
    • “complete dental assessment, ... by a competent Orthodontist or Dentist”;
    • “assessment by a competent Endocrinologist/Metabolic Consultant”;
    • “referral to a competent pain management programme”; and
    • that Al-Khawaja should be “assessed immediately by a Cardiologist”.

Based on the reports that timely, adequate medical treatment has been actively withheld from Al-Khawaja and the expert medical opinion of Prof. McCormack, Front Line Defenders is calling for the human rights defender’s immediate release to Ireland on medical grounds. It is imperative that he be allowed to urgently access the expert medical supports required.

Front Line Defenders also echoes the calls of the Al-Khawaja family that a medical report detailing the complications Al-Khawaja has experienced since the initial 4 hour surgery on his face and jaw, post the brutal beating at the time of his arrest, be released to him and his family. This detailed medical report has been court ordered, but authorities have, to date, failed to comply.

Background: Former Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Protection Coordinator for Front Line Defenders, former President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) and co-founder of Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), Al-Khawaja has a long history of working to promote human rights in the MENA region and championing the protection of human rights defenders at risk.

In February 2011 protests and demonstrations broke out across Bahrain calling for greater political freedoms. As part of the government’s crackdown on these protests, opposition leaders and leading human rights defenders, including Al-Khawaja were arrested.

Eleven years ago this week, on 9 April 2011, up to twenty armed and masked policemen broke into the Al-Khawaja family home in the middle of the night, dragged the human rights defender down the stairs even though he agreed to go peacefully. They extensively beat him, including repeatedly kicking his head. Following his arrest he required a 4 hour surgery on his face and jaw.

On 22 June 2011, Al-Khawaja was unjustly sentenced to life imprisonment.

In recognition of his struggle for human rights and democracy in Bahrain and across the MENA region, Al-Khawaja has been awarded the 2012 Freedom Award, the 2012 Politikens Frihedspris [Freedom Prize], the 2013 Dignity - World Without Torture Award and the 2021 Martin Ennals Award for individuals and organisations that have shown exceptional commitment to defending and promoting human rights, despite the risks involved. The Martin Ennals Award will be presented at a ceremony on 2 June 2022.