117 organisations call on the Danish Prime Minister to intervene in securing the release of Abdul-Ha

Expression

On 22nd January 2021, 117 organisations signed an open letter to the Danish Prime Minister, appealing for her assistance in securing the release of prominent human rights defender and dual Danish-Bahraini citizen Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja from prison in Bahrain, where he is serving a life sentence for his peaceful political and human rights activities in violation of his right to freedom of expression. The letter was initiated by the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, which Al-Khawaja co-founded, as well as Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain.

Al-Khawaja will shortly mark the tenth anniversary since his arrest on 9th April 2011 and subsequent sentence of life imprisonment in June 2011, for organising peaceful protests demanding political reform during the popular movement in Bahrain which began in February 2011. The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry detailed the circumstances of Al-Khawaja’s arrest and subsequent treatment in a detailed report from 2011. The report details how security forces violently arrested Al-Khawaja, inflicting “a hard blow to the side of his face, which broke his jaw and knocked him to the ground. He was taken to the Ministry of Interior (MoI) clinic and then the Bahrain Defence Forces (BDF) Hospital where he had major jaw surgery for four broken bones in his face.”

The report further describes the extent of the severe physical, psychological and sexual torture inflicted on Al-Khawaja. A particularly harrowing example documents how, despite the pleas of Al-Khawaja’s doctor for them to stop, security officers tortured Al-Khawaja directly after he underwent major jaw surgery, while blindfolded and restrained in a military hospital bed. Almost ten years later he still suffers from chronic pain and requires additional surgery to remove the metal plates and screws that were inserted in his jaw during surgery.

In January 2021, Al-Khawaja complained of restrictions on phone calls with his family, whom he hasn’t seen since January 2020, the confiscation of hundreds of his books and reading materials and the prison authorities’ continuing refusal to grant him necessary medical treatment. Denying a prisoner adequate medical care violates the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, known as the Nelson Mandela Rules.

In March 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bahrain released 1,486 prisoners, 901 of whom received royal pardons on “humanitarian grounds.” However, Al-Khawaja and other prominent human rights defenders and activists - many of whom are older and/or suffer from underlying medical conditions - were not among those released. They include Naji Fateel and Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace, both of whom have also been tortured in prison.

A recent statement linked to the joint letter by Human Rights Watch also condemned the ongoing arbitrary detention of Al-Khawaja, stating:

“There is no doubt that the conviction and sentencing of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja was unfair and oppressive and tried to silence his prominent voice demanding the rights of Bahrainis. Al-Khawaja should not have had to spend a single minute behind bars, yet he has been unjustly detained for almost a decade.”

In a report released on 13th January 2021, Human Rights Watch documented an escalation of repression against online and social media activists in Bahrain since 2020. The report criticised the judicial harassment of activists through vexatious prosecution and further condemned the courts’ decisions to uphold the death sentences of opposition activists after grossly unfair trials. The authorities faced further criticism for failing to credibly investigate and prosecute officials and police officers accused of committing serious violations, including torture.

According to Human Rights Watch, in 2020, the Court of Cassation, Bahrain’s court of last resort, upheld the death penalty against at least four people who participated in opposition activities following trials blighted by due process violations.

Tags: censorship