Detention and ill-treatment of Human Rights Defender Zainab Al-Khawaja

30 April 2012

Beirut, 30 April, 2012 -- The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) and Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR), received information that detained human rights defender, Zainab Al-Khawaja (@angryarabia) -28 years old- was subjected to ill treatment and beaten while in police custody. Zainab Al-Khawaja was arrested on the 21st of April 2012 after protesting against the continued detention of her father. She appeared in court today, 30th April 2012. On 21st April 2012, Zainab Al-Khawaja staged a one-woman protest by sitting in the middle of a highway close to the Financial Harbour, in protest against the ongoing detention of her father, leading human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who has been on hunger strike for 82 days. She was immediately arrested and kept in detention for the past 10 days.

Zainab was not allowed a family visit until Sunday the 29th April 2012, when she saw her family and informed them that she had been beaten on the day of her arrest at Al-Hoora police station by a group of police women who removed the security camera and started to beat her severely. She was continuously kicked on her legs and pushed against the wall. One of the female police officers put her against the wall and suffocated her by pressing a baton against her neck. Al-Khawaja was also verbally abused beyond public decency by one of the male officer.

This is the fourth time in which she was arrested by the security forces in Bahrain this past month alone, three of the times were when she had attempted to see her father in the hospital. On 7th and 20th of April 2012, Zainab was arrested at the military hospital where her father currently is.

It appears that the government of Bahrain has the intention to keep Zainab Al-Khawaja in detention in order to permanently prevent her from protesting, while authorities keep her father in detention. Abdulhadi Alkhawaja told his family they force-fed him last week without his permission, which he said is a form of torture given that it was combined with solitary confinement.

Zainab Al-Khawaja is already facing charges since February 2012, of illegal gathering, assaulting a police officer and inciting hatred against the regime, after she was arrested during a protest on the 15th of December 2011. She was detained for five days, beaten and ill-treated on the day of arrest. Today, Monday 30th April 2012, she was presented before the second and fifth lower criminal courts on charges of obstructing traffic and insulting an officer in one case, and insulting at a security officer at a military hospital in a second case. The judge decided to keep her in detention until the next hearing on the 2nd of May 2012.

The GCHR, BCHR, and BYSHR, are very concerned about the arrest, detention, prosecution and ill treatment of human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja while in Bahraini policy custody. The three rights groups believe that the continued targeting and the recent arrest and detention of Zainab Al-Khawaja is directly linked to both her work in the defense of human rights and democracy in Bahrain and her exercise of freedom to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The organizations see this as part of an ongoing trend of harassment of human rights defenders in Bahrain. GCHR, BCHR and BYSHR are very concerned for the physical and psychological welfare of human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja.

The GCHR, BCHR, and BYSHR welcome the decision by the Bahraini court of cassation today 30 April 2012, to overturn the military verdicts against the 14 activists who have been detained since last year and sentenced up to life imprisonment, on alleged charges of "incitement against the regime, and attempt to bring down the regime". They include human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, a founder of both BCHR and GCHR, who was sentenced to life in prison last year and who has been on hunger strike since the 8th February 2012. The GCHR, BCHR, and BYSHR believe that the 14 human rights defenders and activists are prisoners of conscience who have been targeted for exercising their freedoms and fundamental rights. They were subjected to severe forms of torture and unfair military trials, and should be immediately released so that they may start the process of rehabilitation.

GCHR, BCHR, and BYSHR urge the Bahrain authorities to:

1. Immediately release Zainab Al-Khawaja and drop all charges against her, as it is believed that these measures have been taken against her solely due to her legitimate and peaceful work in the defense of human rights, and the exercise of freedom to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression in accordance to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;

2. Immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience and activists including leading human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja.

3. Drop all charges against human rights defenders held on 'politically motivated' charges.

4. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Bahrain are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals, and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.

The GCHR, BCHR and BYSHR call your attention to the rights and fundamental freedoms guaranteed in the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms” in particular to Article 5 (b) which states that: “For the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels: (b)To form, join and participate in non-governmental organizations, associations or groups;” Article 6 (c) “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others: (c) To study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters” and to Article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”.