U.S. Government Should Speak Out On Al Khawaja Trial
Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today urged the U.S. Embassy in Bahrain to send an observer to monitor tomorrow’s court hearing for Bahraini human rights defender Maryam Al Khawaja and issue a public assessment on whether the legal process met international standards.
Al Khawaja was arrested as she arrived in Bahrain last Saturday. She made the trip to visit her father, who is currently on a hunger strike and is serving a life sentence for his peaceful part in 2011 protests. She has been detained since her arrest and is charged with assaulting police officers at the airport, a charge she denies.
“Maryam’s treatment so far has fallen short of international norms. Her lawyer tells us that he was not permitted to speak with her before or during her questioning by the public prosecutor. We’ve seen firsthand how unfair these court proceedings can be,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley, who has been denied access to Bahrain since 2012. “The U.S. government should publicly state after tomorrow’s hearing if proceedings met international legal standards.”
Al Khawaja has been a familiar figure in Washington over the last three years. She has regularly met with members of Congress and administration officials. She has also provided policymakers with valuable information on the human rights situation in Bahrain. In 2011, she testified as a witness at a congressional hearing on Bahrain.
“Maryam is being targeted for her international advocacy work, including in Washington,” said Dooley. “The U.S. government should make clear to its military ally Bahrain that there should be no reprisals against congressional witnesses. The Obama Administration already has a serious credibility problem with Bahraini civil society that will only get worse if it fails to speak out about how Maryam’s case is being handled.”
Al Khawaja’s court hearing is scheduled for 9:00 a.m. Bahrain time on Saturday, September 6. In 2012, when Human Rights First observed various court proceedings for dozens of medics who were prosecuted after treating injured protestors, it found that lawyers for the defense were not permitted to call various witnesses or raise issues about their clients’ torture in custody. The organization is concerned that Maryam’s legal rights will not be respected.