17 December 2012

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) express grave concern over the ongoing judicial harassments against human rights activist Zainab Al-Khawaja.

On 9 Dec 2012, human Rights activist Zainab Al-Khawaja was arrested after staging a one-person protest outside the intensive care unit at Salmaniya hospital, demanding visitation rights for an injured citizen. The security forces prevented his family from visiting him at the hospital. Al-Khawaja was held overnight and taken to the public prosecution office the next day. She was accused of “inciting hatred against the regime, through chanting political slogans” and has been given a 7 days detention order. Zainab Al-Khawaja has reportedly chanted “We are all the hero Aqeel” (the injured citizen). The family members of the injured man were allowed after the protest to visit him briefly. On 13 Dec 2012 before the end of her detention period, she was taken to the public prosecution where her detention period was extended for another 10 days, until 27 Dec 2012. Her lawyer said that his request for Al-Khawaja to be released on bail was rejected. He described her arrest as unfounded and has no justification whatsoever.[1]

On 10 Dec 2012, the lower criminal court has sentenced Al-Khawaja to one month imprisonment in addition to a 100 Bahraini dinars fine in order to suspend the sentence, on charges of participating in an un-notified demonstration and entering restricted zone (Pearl Roundabout) on 12 Feb 2012. (See background here: http://www.bahrainrights.org/en/node/5048)

Although the area is guarded by security forces and members from the Bahraini army since 16 March 2011, there is no official declaration, neither issued nor published, that declares the area as a “restricted zone”.

The human rights defender has been arrested several times during this year and there are more than 13 simultaneous cases against her. She spent around 4 months collectively in prison and she is sentenced to another 4 months which are suspended pending an appeal while she continue to face new charges. This month only, in addition to the above mentioned case about entering the area of pearl roundabout, Al-Khawaja stood for trial on the cases outlined below, which could be resulted in more prison sentences:

1. Insulting a public official while she was in detention before the Lower Criminal Court: Pleading on 12 December 2012, postponed to 6 Jan 2013.

2. Insulting a public official (Bahrain Defence Hospital): Acquitted, however, the office of the Public Prosecution appealed against acquittal. The case is solely based on witnesses of prosecution who had never showed up for the trial sessions although requested by the court. The next hearing will be held on the 26 Dec 2012.

3. Illegal gathering in AbuSaiba roundabout and inciting hatred against the regime: Verdict expected on 26 Dec 2012.

4. Disturbing traffic while protesting on the street (Bahrain Financial Harbour): Court postponed the case to 27 Dec 2012 for studying the case.

5. Illegal gathering and rioting (Al Aali Roundabout): she was sentenced to 3 months imprisonment and BD300 bail to suspend the sentence, pleading was on 11 Dec 2012, postponed to 5 Feb 2013 to summon the prosecution witnesses.

The GCHR and BCHR believes that charges against human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja are politically motivated, and that she is targeted merely for practicing her human rights work and the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression and assembly.

The GCHR and the BCHR call on the US administration as well as other governments that have influence in Bahrain including the UK government, the EU and the leading human rights organizations to:

1- Call for the immediate release of human rights activist Zainab Al-Khawaja as well as all other detained human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience in Bahrain.

2- Increase the pressure on the Government of Bahrain to stop the on-going daily human rights violations as well as the escalated attacks against human rights defenders.

3- To put pressure on the Government of Bahrain to 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.

[1] alwasatnews.com