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13 September 2023

Front Line Defenders Director to join solidarity trip to Bahrain to free Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja

  • Human rights defender at risk of death after 12 years of unjust imprisonment
  • Amnesty International and Action Aid-Denmark directors also joining trip
  • Bahraini Crown Prince due to meet Biden administration in coming days

The imminent risk of death faced by the prominent human rights defender and former Front Line Defenders employee Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja in prison in Bahrain has prompted the organisation’s Interim Director Olive Moore to accompany Maryam Al-Khawaja, his daughter, on a trip to Manama this week to press the Bahraini authorities to release him.

On 7 September, Maryam Al-Khawaja – who is also a prominent human rights defender – announced that she would return from exile to Bahrain to try to save her father, despite risking imprisonment by doing so. She was previously sentenced in absentia to one year in prison and has four active cases against her, on trumped-up charges that Front Line Defenders believes were brought in retaliation for her peaceful human rights work.

One of the Gulf state’s most iconic human rights defenders, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja has been unjustly imprisoned for 12 years for his role in peaceful pro-democracy protests in 2011. He has previously been tortured in detention and his ailing health has sparked serious concerns for his life after he joined hundreds of others on a hunger strike last month calling for better conditions at Jau Prison.

“Maryam Al-Khawaja is determined to return to Bahrain to try to save her father, the leading human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja. After his unjust imprisonment for 12 years she has run out of alternatives. In an important show of solidarity, I have decided to join the leaders of other global organisations in accompanying Maryam on this trip,” said Olive Moore, Interim Director of Front Line Defenders.

“Front Line Defenders owes a debt of gratitude to Abdulhadi, both as a former staff member and friend to many in the organisation, but more importantly as a principled and trailblazing human rights defender in Bahrain and the region. We will not rest until the Bahraini authorities free him and the human rights defenders Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace and Naji Fateel, both also unjustly imprisoned for over a decade.”

Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja is the co-founder of Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), a former President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), and Front Line Defenders’ former Protection Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa.He has received widespread international recognition for his work as a human rights defender, including: the Freedom House Award and Politiken Freedom Prize in 2012; the DIGNITY – Danish Institute against Torture’s “World without Torture” Award in 2013; and the Martin Ennals Award in 2022.

Other leading human rights figures have announced their participation in the trip, including Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General; Tim Whyte, Action Aid-Denmark’s Secretary General; and Andrew Anderson, former Front Line Defenders Executive Director and Amnesty International staff member.

The exact timing of the solidarity trip is not being publicised, but it comes the same week as the Bahraini Crown Prince visits Washington, DC, and more than a dozen human rights organisations, including Front Line Defenders, have also called on President Biden’s administration to demand the release of human rights defenders.

“Now is the moment for the Biden administration to step up to the plate and show solidarity with human rights defenders in Bahrain. In meetings with the Crown Prince this week, the US government must be unequivocal in its calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and other unjustly imprisoned human rights defenders,” said Olive Moore.

Human rights defenders unjustly imprisoned in Bahrain

Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja has been unjustly imprisoned for 12 years. He was arrested in 2011 for his role in peaceful demonstrations during Bahrain’s pro-democracy uprising and is currently serving a life sentence in Bahrain. Al-Khawaja’s health has deteriorated significantly during his imprisonment. He has been subjected to severe physical, sexual, and psychological torture.

Prison authorities have repeatedly failed to provide or allow Al-Khawaja access to adequate medical treatment. In February 2023, Al-Khawaja experienced a cardiac arrhythmia; for several months, he was denied access to adequate medical treatment, despite continued cardiac problems and the risk of cardiac arrest.

On 9 August, 2023, Al-Khawaja began a hunger strike alongside hundreds of other inmates demanding better conditions in Jau Prison. Two days later, on 11 August, he was rushed to the intensive care unit of a Bahraini military hospital due to serious cardiac problems. The attending doctor stressed the imminent danger to Al-Khawaja’s life and administered an intravenous injection until his heart rate stabilised.

Al-Khawaja was then returned to prison, where he continued his hunger strike. He continues to require urgent and adequate medical care, which prison authorities are failing to provide. According to an independent doctor consulting for the family and who is knowledgeable about Al-Khawaja’s case and health, he may not survive for much longer given his deteriorating condition, chronic health issues, and the potential for sudden, fatal cardiac arrest.

Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace, a Bahraini academic and award-winning human rights defender, is serving a life sentence in Bahrain. He has been on a hunger strike without solid food since 8 July, 2021, in protest against the confiscation of his handwritten notes by prison authorities. During his hunger strike, he has been sustaining himself on multivitamin liquid supplements, tea with milk and sugar, water, and salts.

Dr. Al-Singace has been subject to solitary confinement and denied access to adequate medical treatment, despite the fact he is being held at a medical facility, Kanoo Medical Center. Dr. Al-Singace suffers from post-polio syndrome and various health issues, yet the prison administration refuses to provide him with necessary rubber braces for his crutches or adequate medical treatment and have denied him a visit with his appointed doctor since January 2022.

On 6 June 2023, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention expressed concern for Al-Singace's safety and documented violations, including mistreatment and medical neglect. They found his detention arbitrary under various categories and called for his immediate release and access to proper medical care.

Naji Fateel is a prominent Bahraini human rights defender who has dedicated his life to peaceful protest activities and documenting human rights violations in Bahrain. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Bahraini human rights NGO Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR). Since 2007, he has endured periods of imprisonment, been subjected to torture at the hands of the authorities and was the target of death threats during the Bahraini uprising, beginning in February 2011.

Fateel has been detained in Jau Prison since May 2013. Between 2013 and 2016, he was found guilty in three separate cases and sentenced to a total of 25 years and six months in prison.

On 25 March 2023, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for Naji Fateel's “immediate and unconditional” release and for the Bahraini government to investigate his arbitrary detention and alleged torture. The UN Working Group opinion also stated that there was "no legal basis" for his arrest and that he should not have been imprisoned.

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