BAHRAIN: Ongoing arbitrary arrests and judicial harassment of human rights defenders

Urgent Appeal

Paris-Geneva, March 19, 2013. As new cases of arbitrary arrests and ongoing judicial harassment against Ms. Zainab Al-Khawaja have been reported in Bahrain, 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), remains extremely concerned with the very repressive climate faced by human rights defenders in the country.

On February 27, 2013, human rights activist Zainab Al-Khawaja was once again arrested while she was protesting alone in front of the King’s palace in Qudaibiya, Manama, against the culture of impunity and the refusal by the authorities to release the body of Mr. Mahmood Al-Jazeeri who died on February 22, 2013 as a result of tear gas canister shot at his head from a close range. Ms. Al-Khawaja stood with a banner saying "you’ve arrested our fathers & children, even our bodies. Let your palaces hear, we don’t fear your prisons". She was arrested and taken to Al Hoora police station where she was charged with “obstructing traffic”, “damaging public property”, “prejudice to authority” and “inciting hatred of the regime”.

On the same day, the Third High Criminal Court upheld the one-month imprisonment sentence against her on charges of “participating in an illegal gathering” and “entering a restricted zone”, i.e. the Pearl Roundabout, which has been guarded by security and military forces since March 2011 after protesters gathered there at the beginning of the uprising on February 14, 2011. The same court also upheld another two-month imprisonment sentence rendered by the Lower Criminal Court on charges of “damaging Ministry of Interior property”, after Ms. Al-Khawaja teared a photograph of the King of Bahrain, although she had already served that sentence after a previous arrest. As a result, the Public Prosecution announced in a statement that Ms. Al-Khawaja was to start serving her sentence on February 28, 2013; a total of three months and 20 days according to her lawyer. In addition, on February 28, the Court of Appeal overturned the acquittal by the Court of First Instance in another case related to charges of “insulting a police officer” in a military hospital, charges that she was acquitted for on May 2, 2012. Ms. Al-Khawaja was protesting inside the Bahrain Defence Forces hospital when her father, Mr. Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, jailed prominent human rights defender, former MENA Director at Front Line and former President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), was on hunger strike in that hospital. The Public Prosecution then appealed the acquittal verdict of the Court of First Instance, and the Court of Appeal sentenced Ms. Al-Khawaja to three months imprisonment.

The Observatory recalls that Ms. Zainab Al-Khawaja has been arrested several times for protesting against human rights violations and has spent a total of four months in prison previously. She currently has four ongoing cases against her and remains detained at the Jail for Women of the Town Police Station. On March 18, 2013 afternoon, she reportedly started a hunger strike after she was denied visits from relatives.

The Observatory firmly denounces the ongoing judicial harassment against Ms. Al-Khawaja and other human rights defenders in Bahrain. Accordingly, the Observatory urges the Bahraini authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Ms. Al-Khawaja as her detention is arbitrary and only aims at sanctioning her human rights activities.

Furthermore, the Observatory reiterates its call on the Bahraini authorities to put an end to any act of harassment against human rights defenders, and recalls their obligation to comply with the international human rights instruments ratified by the Kingdom of Bahrain, as well with the 1998 Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

For more information, please contact:
· FIDH: Arthur Manet/Audrey Couprie: + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18
· OMCT: Delphine Reculeau: + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39

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