Leading Bahrain Human Rights Defender Stopped at Airport, May Appear in Court Tomorrow
Washington, D.C. — Human Rights First today expressed fears for leading human rights defender Maryam Al Khawaja, who landed at Bahrain airport last night on a visit home and has been held and charge by Bahraini authorities. Reports state that al Khawaja was immediately detained and will be held at the airport until tomorrow, when she is due to appear in court to face charges that carry long jail terms.
She is understood to be facing charges for her part in a campaign accusing prominent members of the Bahrain government with human rights violations, another charge of insulting the king of Bahrain on social media, and a third of assaulting a police officer apparently in connection with the confiscation of Maryam’s phone at the airport.
“Bahrain is consistently revealing itself as a place where voices on human rights are not welcome,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley. “In the last two months, a U.S. diplomat, a member of Congress, and the NGO Human Rights First have either been kicked out of or not allowed into the country. Now Maryam has been taken into custody and will appear in court tomorrow after trying to visit her family, including her father who is on hunger strike in prison there. Let’s hope the United States, United Kingdom, and other governments will respond to what’s happening to her with more than just an awkward silence,”
Maryam’s father is prominent human rights defender Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, who is serving a life sentence after peacefully protesting in 2011, and his health has seriously deteriorated since he embarked on a hunger strike last week.
“The day before yesterday, Bahrain’s Ministry of Human Rights was boasting of its ‘human rights clean record,’ and of its ‘keenness on bolstering [an] atmosphere of transparency, freedom of opinion and expression,’ but today it’s decided to prosecute one of its leading human rights defenders,” added Dooley. “These are classic charges used to target human rights activists in Bahrain, and if convicted she could be facing a long time in prison. Based on our experience, including seeing firsthand how Bahraini courts operate, we don’t have much confidence that this will be a fair legal process”.
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.