Bahrain Should Dismiss Cases Against Human Rights Defender Zainab Al Khawaja
Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today urged the Bahraini authorities to immediately dismiss the outstanding cases against prominent human rights defender Zainab Al Khawaja. A Bahraini court is scheduled to hold hearings on the consolidated appeals for three politically-motivated charges against her tomorrow, October 21. An appeal hearing in another case against Al Khawaja is set for next month.
“Jailing Zainab Al Khawaja will only cement Bahrain’s international reputation as a country where peaceful dissent is a criminal act,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley. “Bahrain needs people like Zainab to solve its human rights crisis. Putting her and other peaceful dissidents in prison makes that much more difficult. The U.S. government has rightly called for charges against her to be dismissed, and should once again press the Bahraini government to drop all charges as these hearings approach.”
Wednesday’s hearings coincide with Al Khawaja’s 32nd birthday. Al Khawaja faces cumulative sentences of over five years on charges of tearing up pictures of the king, for insulting a public official, and for trespassing in the vicinity of the jail where her father Abdulhadi Al Khawaja is in prison. If the convictions are upheld, Al Khawaja’s imprisonment would separate her from her six-year-old daughter. She also has a son who is less than one year old and is still nursing, and he would stay with her in prison.
Al Khawaja, who attended Beloit University in Wisconsin, spent most of 2013 in prison for peacefully protesting against the repressive Bahraini regime. In addition to the charges being heard on Wednesday, she also faces a separate appeals hearing on November 17 on charges brought after she sought to visit her father, Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, in prison in August 2014. Abdulhadi Al Khawaja is one of Bahrain’s most prominent human rights defenders. He is currently serving a life sentence for his peaceful part in 2011 protests. Zainab Al Khawaja’s sister, Maryam Al Khawaja, has been sentenced in absentia to a year in prison and lives in exile.
The Bahraini government has failed to fully implement the recommendations from the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report which would set the country on a path toward necessary reforms. The charges against Al Khawaja are further evidence of Bahrain’s lack of meaningful progress on human rights issues.
Many opposition leaders jailed during the 2011 protests remain in prison, and Bahrain continues to jail those peacefully expressing their views, both online and offline. Human Rights First continues to urge the U.S. government to publicly press the Bahraini regime to release its political prisoners and promote an inclusive political solution to its crisis. Human Rights First also urges members of Congress to support S. 2009 and H.R. 3445, legislation that would ban the transfer of small arms to the Bahraini military until the 26 recommendations in the 2011 BICI report have been fully implemented.