The undersigned international and regional human rights organisations write to urge your delegation to repeat your June call for the release of Bahraini human rights defenders and political activists who have been imprisoned solely for exercising their human rights. In view of the imminent risk to the life of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, a prominent rights activist, who began a hunger strike on August 24 in protest at his unlawful detention, we urge you to go further and call for his immediate release and that of 12 other high-profile dissidents in Bahrain who were convicted in the same trial for their peaceful political activism.
In June 2014, your government signed a joint statement at the 26th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in which you called for the “release all persons imprisoned solely for exercising human rights, including human rights defenders, some of whom have been identified as arbitrarily detained according to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.”
Bahrain has hundreds of political prisoners who have been jailed for legitimate acts of protest, but this description clearly encompasses the 13 high-profile activists, whose ongoing detention is of the utmost concern, notably Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who was the only Bahraini prisoner at that time whose detention the Working Group had addressed and classified as arbitrary on July 13, 2012.
In June 2011, a military court convicted 21 leading activists on charges that included broadcasting “false and tendentious news and rumors,” promoting the replacement of Bahrain’s monarchy with a republican form of government and “inciting” people to engage in demonstrations and marches. The 14 defendants who were in custody – seven were convicted in absentia – appealed the military court verdict. During subsequent proceedings in the Supreme Appellate Court, civilian prosecutors purportedly withdrew charges for “crimes linked with freedom of expression.” In reality, and based on analysis of court documents, prosecutors continued to pursue charges based upon the defendants’ advocating the establishment of a republican form of government in Bahrain and related activities. For example, the court found that Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and others had “propagated the overthrow of the state’s political order.” It found that members of the group “worked assiduously to frustrate” a “national dialogue,” choosing instead to “advocate the declaration of a republic in the country” and that members of the group attended various protests. The court concluded only that the defendants had engaged in a variety of acts of political protest—acts that are protected under international and Bahraini law. Despite this, the court ruled that all defendants were guilty of terrorism (except for one defendant whom the military court had acquitted of this charge) and affirmed the prison terms that the military courts had pronounced, including 3 life sentences, one of which was for Abdulhadi al-Khawaja.
Abdulhadi al-Khawaja’s hunger strike is in protest at the unlawfulness of his detention and the detention of others, whose only “crime” has been to call for political reform using recognized and protected tools of peaceful political protest.
We welcome and appreciate your government’s call for the release of human rights activists in June 2014, and now urge you to publicly and unilaterally repeat that call by explicitly naming them in the interests of human rights and reform in Bahrain, which will be further jeopardised in the event of the death of an innocent and courageous human rights activist.
We would also urge you to publicly express your concerns over the detention of Maryam al-Khawaja, who is facing charges of assaulting a police officer after her arrest in Manama airport on August 30. We fear her arrest, like that of her father’s, may be as a direct result of her human rights work.
- Americans for Human Rights and Democracy in Bahrain
- Bahrain Center for Human Rights
- Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy
- Frontline Defenders
- Gulf Center for Human Rights
- Human Rights Watch