Bahraini Human Rights Activist Maryam Al Khawaja Sentenced in Absentia to One Year in Prison
Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First said that today’s Bahraini court sentencing of prominent human rights defender Maryam Al Khawaja is a powerful warning to those who criticize the regime. Al Khawaja was arrested and charged with assaulting police officers at the airport as she arrived in Bahrain in late August, a charge which she denies. She spent three weeks in detention before she was released and left the country.
“Today’s sentence – even with Maryam out of the country – is a powerful warning to human rights activists who criticize the regime. It tells those based out of Bahrain they risk jail if they try to return,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley. “A country that targets its human rights defenders is a county on the road to disaster, but Bahrain’s government seems determined to suffocate peaceful dissent. Making this example of Maryam shows how little Bahrain has reformed in the three years since the Bassiouni Commission, and how nervous it still is of its human rights advocates.”
In recent months, the Bahraini government has ramped up its crackdown on human rights defenders and peaceful opposition groups. Prominent human rights defenders, including Maryam’s sister Zainab Al Khawaja, are currently awaiting verdicts on politically-motivated charges. Zainab is due to be sentenced in separate court hearings later this week.
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. Leading human rights defenders are harassed or jailed, and independent international human rights organizations, including Human Rights First, are refused entry to the country. Human Rights First continues to urge the U.S. government to publicly press the Bahraini regime to release these political prisoners and include them in political talks. Human Rights First also calls on the U.S. government to send an observer to the trials of human rights activists and to state publicly whether proceedings meet international legal standards.
On December 5-7, several U.S. Senators are due to travel to Bahrain to participate in the Manama Dialogue security conference. Human Rights First urges the U.S. Delegation to the Manama Dialogue to make clear that successful cooperation on security measures requires Bahrain to move toward a stable and inclusive government.