As Trial of Activist Maryam Al Khawaja Approaches, Senators Call on Bahrain to Drop Charges
Washington, D.C. – A bipartisan group of six U.S. Senators urged the Bahraini government to drop the travel ban and charges that have been levied against prominent Bahraini human rights activist Maryam Al Khawaja. The call came in a letter from Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) sent to Bahraini Ambassador to the United States Shaikh Abdullah bin Rashid al-Khalifa. The Senators expressed deep concern over the arrest of Al Khawaja upon her arrival in Bahrain on August 30, when she returned to the country to visit her father who is serving a life sentence for his peaceful dissent against the regime in 2011.
“We urge the Government of Bahrain to immediately lift the travel ban on Ms. Al-Khawaja and drop all charges against her,” wrote the Senators. “The arbitrary arrest and detention of human rights defenders like the al-Khawajas contradicts the Kingdom of Bahrain’s publicly stated commitments to human rights and reconciliation. We urge your government to release its political prisoners and uphold its commitments to fully implement the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry.”
Al Khawaja was arrested as she arrived in Bahrain and was immediately detained under the charge of assaulting police officers at the airport, which she denies. She was released from detention on September 18 but is banned from leaving Bahrain. Her trial opens on Wednesday, October 1. If convicted Al Khawaja could face several years in prison.
Human Rights First calls on the U.S. government to send an observer to her trial and to state publicly whether proceedings meet international legal standards. Wednesday’s court proceedings will likely result in an adjournment to a hearing on a future date. It is common for cases involving human rights activists being prosecuted on false charges to be regularly adjourned for several months. In the case of 23 medics who were detained and tortured for treating injured protestors, the final sentencing did not occur until two years after their arrest in 2011.
“While the U.S. government has sent a representative to the trials of a human rights activists in the past, it has failed to speak up about the distorted process,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley. “I’ve seen firsthand how biased Bahraini courts can be, and U.S. silence in the face of such injustice is often read as acceptance of or acquiescence to what’s happened. After failing to publicly call for the release of Maryam while she was in detention, it is time that the State Department speaks publicly about the fairness of these court proceedings.”
If Al Khawaja continues to speak out against human rights violations in Bahrain, she risks further punishment; insulting the king on social media, for example, carries a sentence of up to seven years in prison. The ongoing travel ban and charges levied against her pose a threat to her important work as a human rights defender. In 2012, Maryam accepted the Roger Baldwin Medal of Liberty on behalf of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights during Human Rights First’s annual Human Rights Summit in Washington, DC.