Bahraini Court Upholds Conviction with Reduced Sentence for Human Rights Defender Zainab Al Khawaja
Washington, D.C. – In response to reports that a Bahraini court has sentenced prominent human rights defender Zainab Al Khawaja to one year in prison, Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley issued the following statement:
“Those of us lucky enough to know Zainab understand that this verdict is a wasteful mistake, that by putting her back in prison the Bahraini government is throwing away its chance of having her help the country out of its crisis. She’s exactly the sort of person Bahrain desperately needs to be playing an active part in public life. The country is slipping towards disaster, and jailing Zainab and other peaceful leaders will only accelerate that slide.
“We’ve entered a new, dangerous phase in Bahraini politics where previously tolerated voices are silenced and the regime’s western backers, primarily the United States, should now respond with more than ineffectual statements of disapproval.”
A Bahraini court today held appeal hearings on the consolidated appeals for three politically-motivated charges against her including 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. The convictions were reportedly upheld with a reduction of Al Khawaja’s sentence from three years to one year. Al Khawaja’s imprisonment will 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. An appeal hearing in another case against Al Khawaja is set for next month.
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.