NGOs Call for the Release of Activist Zainab al-Khawaja
14 March 2016 – Bahraini security forces today raided the house of human rights activist Zainab al-Khawaja and arrested her with her 15 months old son. The undersigned NGOs condemn in the strongest terms the arrest of Zainab and her son over charges merely related to her activism and exercise of free expression.
On 14 March 2016, at 3:45 P.M., security forces raided the house of Zainab al-Khawaja’s in-laws’ house asking for her. When they did not find her, they raided Zainab’s apartment where she was arrested with her 15 months old son, Abdulhadi. She was then taken to Al-Hoora police station. Her family were informed that she will be transferred for a medical checkup before transporting her to Isa Town women's prison.
Zainab was sentenced to a total of three years and one months in prison and BHD 3,000 fine over several charges related to her exercise of freedom of expression and her peaceful dissent against the Bahraini government. On 2 February 2016, the court of appeal upheld a 9 months prison sentence against Zainab for trying to visit her father, human rights defender Abdulhadi al-Khawaja in Jau Prison when he was on hunger strike in August 2014. In December 2015, the court amended a prison sentence against Zainab to one year and four months instead of three years and three months on charges related to tearing up a picture of the King and allegedly insulting a public officer during a peaceful protest in Bahrain. In October 2015, the court reduced her sentence to one year in prison instead of three years over the same charge of insulting the Kings.
Zainab AlKhawaja has been previously detained several times since 2011 for various periods, and has had over 13 cases brought against her at Bahrain courts. At one time she spent over 12 months in prison between February 2013 to February 2014 serving multiple sentences on different charges related to her human rights work and exercise of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. She has previously suffered from ill-treatment and poor prison conditions during her previous detention.
Zainab was determined to exercise her right to free expression, she tweeted: “Ripping his picture is a first step to let him know that we are not afraid, that we are determined to gain our rights, to live as free ppl Bahrain.” Bahraini authorities targeting and prosecution of human rights activists is a part of a wider crackdown against whoever exercises their freedom of expression in Bahrain, including journalists, bloggers, social media activists, and opposition figures. Bahrain has failed to uphold its international commitments and continues to violates its people’s fundamental rights.
Zainab’s family believe the arrest was timed as a retaliatory act against her sister, Maryam Al-Khawaja, Co-Director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights and former Acting President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. Maryam Al-Khawaja recently attended the 31st Session of the UN Human Rights Council, and in February attended the FIFA presidential elections in Zurich, Switzerland, which saw the Bahraini candidate Sheikh Salman Al Khalifa lose, in part due to human rights allegations related to the February 2011 “Arab Spring” events.
We, the undersigned, therefore call on the Government of Bahrain to:
- Immediately and unconditionally release Zainab al-Khawaja and her son;
- Immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against Zainab related to freedom of expression; and
- End the systematic targeting of individuals for exercising their right to peaceful freedom of expression.
- Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain
- Bahrain Center for Human Rights
- Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy
- Justice Human Rights Organization
- European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights
On 31 May the sentence against human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja was suspended, and she was released on "humanitarian grounds" from Isa Town women prison, where she had served jail time since 14 march 2016 together with her 17-month old toddler. The charges brought against her involved destroying public property and insulting public security officer, including the tearing of the King's photo twice, which are in clear violation of her right to free expression.
Although she has been able to reunite with her family, BCHR and NGOs are concerned that she might be re-arrested and imprisoned at any time, given the fact that the charges against her have not been dropped, and her sentence has not been revoked.