On 21 October 2015, human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja is marking her 32nd birthday with the prospect of at least a year in prison after the Bahrain Court of Appeals reduced a three-year sentence for tearing up a photo of the monarch. She has been free on bail since November 2014 and could be taken into custody at any time, along with her baby son, Abdulhadi.
Al-Khawaja, who was not in court today, is facing a number of trumped-up charges related to her peaceful and legitimate human rights activism, for which she has already spent over a year in prison. The longest sentence was handed down on 4 December 2014 when she was sentenced to three years in prison and a fine of 3000 BHD (approx. USD$8000) on the charge of ripping up a picture of Bahrain’s monarch during a court hearing in October 2014. The fine of 3000 BHD was upheld as well.
Three other cases were postponed for a ruling on 3 December. Two charges of two-month sentences each were handed down on 9 December 2014 for “destroying public property” when she ripped a picture of the King at Budaiyah police station, as well as a charge of allegedly “insulting a public official” (a police officer) for which she was sentenced to one year in prison.
“The authorities in Bahrain know that by reducing the sentence it will help minimise the international reaction. In effect though, it doesn’t change much. Zainab is still at risk of going to prison with her baby at any time now. Ripping a picture is not a crime, and all sentences must be immediately and unconditionally revoked,” said Maryam Al-Khawaja, Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) Co-Director.
She added, “What also needs to be taken into consideration is the impact on the children of human rights defenders who are targeted. Unfortunately too often that is forgotten and lost in the details of the discussion on the protection of human rights defenders.”
On 17 November, Zainab Al-Khawaja is also due in court to hear the appeal of a nine-month sentence for entering a restricted area at Jaw Prison while seeking to visit her father prominent human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja in prison when he was on hunger strike in August 2014. Another case of insulting a public official, for which she was sentenced to six months, will also be heard on 17 November. She was released on bail of US$1325 from prison in November 2014 just prior to giving birth to Abdulhadi, who would accompany her to prison. She also has a six-year-old daughter, Jude.
Hundreds of supporters with a reach of over 1.4 million joined a Thunderclap campaign initiated by GCHR with support from 15 NGOs to wish her a happy birthday and call for her conviction to be quashed. Many supporters also tweeted a message or photo to @AngryArabiya and @GulfCentre4HR with hashtags #NotaCrime and #HappyBirthdayZainab. See: https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/33052-happybirthdayzainab
This campaign was endorsed by Amnesty International, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Bahrain Institute for Rights & Democracy (BIRD), Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), Civicus: World Alliance for Civic Participation, European-Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights (EBOHR), European Center for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR), Front Line Defenders, Index on Censorship, International Service For Human Rights (ISHR), Lawyers Rights Watch Canada (LRWC) and Rafto Foundation for Human Rights.
For a testament to Zainab’s strength and commitment to human rights, watch the teaser for the documentary film “We are the Giant” featuring Maryam and Zainab Al-Khawaja at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1-5zbBqU8E