Bahrain: Renewed Detention of Outspoken Activist as Prison Sentences Start to Rain
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights and the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights express concern over the renewed detention of human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja for peacefully protesting, in addition to the recent prison sentences passed on her within a couple of days.
On 27 February 2013, the third high criminal court upheld the detention of Zainab Al-Khawaja for a month in the case of participating in an unauthorized demonstration and entering a restricted zone, the “pearl roundabout area”. Her lawyer said that he attended the first session where the judge decided that the verdict will be issued in the next session, although the lawyer was not given the chance to present his defence.
Although the area has been guarded by security forces and members of the Bahraini army since 16 March 2011, there is no official declaration, neither issued nor published, that declares the area as a “restricted zone”. Al-Khawaja already served 8 days for the same offense after being arrested in February 2012 on the borders of the pearl roundabout area and 20 days are left from this sentence. (1
On the same day, her appeal in the case of damaging MOI property (tearing the photo of Hamad bin Salman) was rejected and 2 months imprisonment was upheld but she had already served that sentence during a previous arrest.
On the night of 27 February 2013, Al-Khawaja was arrested after she staged a one-person protest in front of the King’s palace in Qudaibiya, Manama, to protest the culture of impunity and lack of accountability in the security forces, and to demand the release of Mahmood Al-Jazeeri’s body who died last Friday due to a head injury from a tear gas canister. She 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 subsequently arrested and taken to the Hoora police station. She has been charged with obstructing traffic, damaging property, inciting hatred of the regime, and prejudice to authority. Al-Khawaja has stated that she will not attend the public prosecution or court in protest over the lack of an independent judiciary.
On 28 February 2013, Zainab Al-Khawaja’a acquittal in the case of insulting a public officer at the military hospital last April was overturned and she was sentenced to 3 months. (2
Her lawyer said the case included an official document that confirms that the witnesses who testified against Al-Khawaja were not present at time of the alleged incident.
The public prosecution said in a statement on 28 February 2013, that Al-Khwaja will start serving her sentences from today (a sum of 3 months and 20 days according to her lawyer).
Zainab Al-Khawaja has been arrested several times before, spent over 4 months in prison collectively. Another 4 cases are already active in the court today and she may face more prison sentences, while other cases are being prepared by the public prosecution. (3
The GCHR and BCHR believe that charges and prison sentences against Zainab Al-Khawaja are politically motivated, and that she is targeted merely for practicing her human rights work and her legitimate exercise of freedom of expression and assembly.
The GCHR and the BCHR call on the US administration as well as other governments that have influence in Bahrain including the UK government, the EU and leading human rights organizations to:
1- Call for the immediate release of human rights activist Zainab Al-Khawaja as well as all other detained human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience in Bahrain;
2- Increase the pressure on the Government of Bahrain to stop the on-going daily human rights violations as well as the escalated attacks against human rights defenders;
3- To put pressure on the Government of Bahrain to guarantee in all circumstances that human rights defenders in Bahrain are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals, and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment;
4. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Bahrain are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals, and are free of all restrictions including judicial harassment;
5. abide by the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, in particular its Article 1, which provides that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”, as well as Article 12(1) that provides “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms”, and Article 12(2) (“the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually or 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.”)
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