On 25 March, the United Nations marks the International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members.
Today, Front Line Defenders renews its call for the freedom of our former colleague and Bahraini human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja. Abdulhadi was the Middle East and North Africa Protection Coordinator at Front Line Defenders for more than two years, during which time he traveled around the region meeting with fellow human rights defenders, supporting their work, advocating for their protection, and investigating violations against them. He served as the MENA Protection Coordinator from 2008 to February 2011, when he resigned to help lead the peaceful pro-democracy revolution sweeping the streets of his own country.
Abdulhadi was and remains a powerful and peaceful voice calling for human rights and reform in Bahrain. On 9 April 2011, Bahraini authorities arrested him as part of a campaign of repression following the pro-democracy protests, and on 22 June 2011, a Bahrain military court sentenced Abdulhadi and eight other activists to life imprisonment, on the basis of evidence widely accepted as having been secured under torture. The government's own Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) concluded that he was subjected to torture and inhumane treatment during his arrest and detention. He 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.
Throughout his imprisonment, he has continued to advocate for the rights of Bahrainis, and to speak out against the mass arrests, politically motivated trials, and reports of torture that emerge from Bahrain's prisons.
Nearly five years after his arrest, Abdulhadi's imprisonment remains not only an injustice but definitive evidence that the Bahraini regime has no intention of reform.
Human rights activists like Abdulhadi must be free to work peacefully and legitimately for the rights of their communities, not suffering behind bars.
As we renew our call for the freedom of Abdulhadi, Front Line Defenders Deputy Director Andrew Anderson wrote the following open letter to our friend and former colleague:
We have just completed another all-staff week in Dublin and no matter how positive the discussions are it is always a reminder that you are unable to be with us. We miss both your wise advice and your gentle humour. Your spirit is always with us.
I am very conscious that the 5th anniversary of your detention is coming up, and it is a source of huge frustration that we have been unable in that time to do more than sustain attention on your case and the repression of human rights defenders in Bahrain. Nevertheless, we will persevere, and I remain confident that no matter how long the struggle, your efforts and those of others in Bahrain will eventually achieve progress. There is a desperation about the actions of the Bahraini regime which hopefully is a precursor to their realisation that they need to find a new path.
We are planning our activities for 2016 and will try again to give renewed attention to calls for your release. If there is anything which you think could be helpful do let us know. I am hoping also to have the opportunity to come to Bahrain and we will try again with our application in the next weeks.
We have sent you a copy of Dispatches, you will see we managed to sneak in your image.
It was very nice to host Maryam to dinner in Edinburgh in December, but it is about time we managed to have you come over to visit. We will keep working on it.
All the best,