Bahrain: Provisional release pending trial of Ms. Maryam Al-Khawaja

22/09/2014
Urgent Appeal

URGENT APPEAL - THE OBSERVATORY

New information
BHR 002 / 0914 / OBS 075.2
Release / Ongoing judicial harassment
Bahrain
September 22, 2014

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Bahrain.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) about the provisional release pending trial of Ms. Maryam Al-Khawaja, GCHR Co-Director and a member of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR).

According to the information received, on September 18, 2014, the public prosecution ordered the release of Ms. Maryam Al-Khawaja pending her trial on 1 October 2014, for allegedly assaulting a police officer at the airport.

A travel ban has been imposed on her and a guarantee of her place of residence was required as a condition of her release. She is due to appear on October 1 2014 before the High Criminal Court. If convicted, she can face up to two years of imprisonment.

The Observatory welcomes the release of Ms. Al-Khawaja and thanks all the persons, institutions and organisations that intervened in her favour. However it remains seriously concerned about the ongoing judicial harassment against her as it seems to merely aim at sanctioning and hindering her human rights activities. The Observatory further reiterates its concern about the pattern of harassment against members of Ms Al-Khawaja family.

The Observatory more generally reiterates its call on the Bahraini authorities to put an end to all acts of harassment – including at the judicial level – against all human rights defenders in Bahrain, and to comply with all international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Bahrain, in particular the United Nations (UN) Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998.

Background information

On August 30, 2014, Ms. Maryam Al-Khawaja, who is a Danish-Bahraini citizen, was denied entry into Bahrain and arrested upon her arrival at the Bahrain International Airport. Ms. Al-Khawaja was travelling back to Bahrain to visit her father, Mr. Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, former MENA Director at Front Line Defenders and former BCHR President, also holding dual Danish-Bahraini citizenship, who is currently on a hunger strike in the Jaw prison. Moreover, Maryam’s sister, Ms. Zaynab Al-Khawaja is also a human rights defender. The three are renowned Bahraini activists who have been active in the human rights and pro-democracy movement in Bahrain. Since February 2011 they helped to spread the protesters’ demands and exposed the Bahraini authorities’ repression on the Internet and Twitter (for more information on the cases of Mr. Abdulhadi and Ms. Zaynab Al-Khawaja please see below).

Upon arrival at around 1 am local time in Manama, Ms. Maryam Al-Khawaja was denied entry into the country and detained at the immigration area. Security officials claimed that she was not a citizen of Bahrain, and was not welcome in the country. The authorities also confiscated her Danish passport. Despite her protests, she was never presented with any documents to this effect, and the authorities refused to provide her with any supporting evidence that she is no longer a Bahraini citizen. Ms. Al-Khawaja stated that she would not voluntarily leave Bahrain, and that she would begin a hunger strike to protest the unlawful denial of entry into the country. Ms. Al-Khawaja who travelled using her Danish passport, is holding a valid Bahraini ID card.

Ms. Al-Khawaja was accused and interrogated on charges of “assault and battery against on-duty public employees during their performance of official duty”. The public prosecution alleges that she attacked a lieutenant and another policewoman and injured them when they asked her to hand over her mobile phone. Her lawyer said that the public prosecution denied Ms. Al-Khawaja the right to meet with him before the interrogation and that the lawyer himself was also denied the right to talk to her about her legal rights during interrogation. In that respect, he filed a legal complaint to the public prosecution for preventing him from talking to his client before the interrogation. On August 31, 2014, the authorities transferred Ms. Maryam Al-Khawaja to Isa Town women’s prison for seven days pending investigation on the above-mentioned charges.

On September 10, a judge extended the preventive detention of Ms. Maryam Al-Khawaja for ten additional days.

Her lawyer filed a complaint at the Public Prosecution for “assault” alleging that Ms. Al-Khawaja was injured during her arrest and presented medical reports proving bruises in her right arm. Her lawyer also reported that he was not able to speak with her before the hearing, and her family were denied entry in the courtroom. On September 8, 2014, the Prosecution summoned Ms. Al-Khawaja to hear her testimony regarding the “assault” complaint. However, the Prosecution refused to write down her testimony in extenso, in particular the details of how she was assaulted. In fact, the Prosecution only wrote down that she was injured while the police was trying to take her phone away. Ms. Al-Khawaja thus refused to sign on her incomplete testimony. The Observatory stresses that Ms. Al-Khawaja has the right to record her full testimony before the Prosecution and considers the Prosecution’s objection to record details of her assault as a severe violation of her right to an effective remedy.

Mr. Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja was sentenced on June 22, 2011 by the National Safety Court – a military court – to life imprisonment for his peaceful human rights activities. On January 7, 2013 Bahrain’s highest court upheld the convictions against 13 leading activists for their role in anti-government demonstrations in 2011, including Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concerns about the lack of fairness and due process afforded to these activists. The court ruling came more than a year after the government’s pledge to implement the recommendations of the BICI, which called on authorities to “commute the sentences of all persons charged with offences involving political expression not consisting of advocacy of violence” and to overturn convictions imposed after grossly unfair trials.

Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja was subjected to a severe level of torture starting from the time of his arrest on April 9, 2011. He is being held in Jaw prison.

On August 24, 2014, Mr. Abdulhadi Al- Khawaja declared that he was starting an open hunger strike to protest the continuation of his arbitrary arrest and detention.

On May 22, 2013, dual Danish-Bahraini national, Ms. Zainab Al-Khawaja, was sentenced to three months in jail on charges of taking part in an illegal gathering and insulting a police officer. The human rights defender was arrested on February 27, 2013, during a peaceful sit-in to protest authorities’ refusal to hand over the body of a man who was killed during a demonstration on February 14, 2013. Ms. Zainab Al-Khawaja had been serving two sentences on charges of alleged participation in an unauthorised demonstration and unlawful entry to Pearl Roundabout and was due to be released in May 2013. The authorities have taken Zainab Al-Khawaja to court for charges in more than 13 cases. The latest sentencing meant that she would stay in detention until February 2014.

On January 27, 2014, the Criminal Court issued a new sentence in absentia against Ms. Zainab Al-Khawaja where she was sentenced to four extra months of imprisonment in two new cases in which she was accused of destroying property of the Ministry of Interior during her detention at Isa Town police station last May, in an indication to her ripping the photo of Bahrain’s King Hamad Isa Al-Khalifa.

Ms. Al-Khawaja mentioned that she was informed about the trial an hour before holding it, and she was only able to call her lawyer five minutes before the trial which was not enough time for the lawyer to attend the hearing.

On February 16, 2014, Ms. Zainab Al-Khawaja was released from prison. On February 19, 2014, she appeared in court and had her trial postponed until March 3, 2014.

At the end of August 2014, Maryam Al-Khawaja’s sister, Zainab Al-Khawaja, was briefly detained when she went to the hospital to visit her father after he was transferred there from the prison.

Actions requested:

The Observatory urges the authorities of Bahrain to:

i. Release Mr. Al-Khawaja immediately and unconditionally as his detention is arbitrary since it seems to merely sanction his human rights activities;

ii. Put an end to any act of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Ms. Maryam Al-Khawaja, Ms. Zaynab Al-Khawaja and Mr. Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, as well as against all human rights defenders in Bahrain;

iii. Conform in any circumstances with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, in particular:
- its Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually or in association with others, to promote the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels” ;
- its Article 6 (c) which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others 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 its Article 12.2 which states 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”.

iv. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Bahrain.

Addresses:

· Cheikh Hamad bin Issa AL KHALIFA, King of Bahrain, Fax: +973 176 64 587
· Cheikh Khaled Bin Ahmad AL KHALIFA, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tel: +973 172 27 555; Fax : +973 172 12 6032
· Cheikh Khalid bin Ali AL KHALIFA, Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs, Tel: +973 175 31 333; Fax: +973 175 31 284
· Lt. Gen. Cheikh Rashed bin Abdulla AL KHALIFA, Minister of Interior, Tel: +973 17572222 and +973 17390000. Email: info@interior.gov.bh
· Permanent Mission of Bahrain to the United Nations in Geneva, 1 chemin Jacques-Attenville, 1218 Grand-Saconnex, CP 39, 1292 Chambésy, Switzerland. Fax: + 41 22 758 96 50. Email: info@bahrain-mission.ch

Please also write to diplomatic representations of Bahrain in your respective countries.

***
Paris-Geneva, September 22, 2014

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory, a FIDH and OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

· E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
· Tel and fax FIDH + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80
· Tel and fax OMCT + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29

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