Bahraini Activist Zainab Al Khawaja Sentenced to Three Years in Jail
Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First is calling today’s sentencing of Zainab Al Khawaja further evidence of Bahrain’s retreat from human rights. Al Khawaja, who gave birth to a son last week, was sentenced by a Bahraini court to three years in prison for tearing up a picture of the king at a court hearing on October 14. The U.S. State Department had called publicly for Al Khawaja to be afforded a fair trial.
“This extreme overreaction to tearing up a picture of the monarch reveals how insecure the regime is. The verdict invites international ridicule of the ruling family and sympathy for Zainab. It also exposes Bahrain’s false claims to respect freedom of expression,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley. “For years now, we’ve seen the Bahrain government attack people for peacefully expressing their views and this sentence exacerbates an already tense political situation. Jailing Zainab only deepens the country’s crisis.”
Al Khawaja, who attended Beloit University in Wisconsin, spent most of 2013 in prison for her peaceful protests against the regime. Her family told Human Rights First that there is likely to be a delay before her prison sentence starts. Al Khawaja’s father, 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. Her sister, Maryam Al Khawaja, was earlier this week sentenced in absentia to a year in prison on charges of assaulting police officers when she arrived in Bahrain in August, a charge she denies.
Today’s verdict comes on the eve of the 2014 Manama Dialogue, a security conference U.S. government officials will attend.
“The U.S. government can’t afford to ignore the repression of its allies in the fight against ISIS,” said Dooley. “The way to fight terrorism is with more human rights, not less. Silencing Zainab means muting another important voice advocating for peaceful reform.”
Many peaceful opposition leaders jailed during the 2011 protests remain in prison, and Bahrain continues to jail those peacefully expressing their views including those who criticize the ruling monarchy on Twitter. Human Rights First continues to urge the U.S. government to publicly press the Bahraini regime to release its political prisoners. Human Rights First urges the U.S. government to send observers to the trials of human rights activists and to state publicly whether proceedings meet international legal standards.