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By Sara Yasin / 11 April 2012
Prominent Bahraini activist Abdulhadi Alkhawaja is now entering his 63rd day of hunger strike. Index joins rights organisations, politicians and academics in calling on Bahrain’s ruler, King Hamad to release him immediately
HM Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa
We, the undersigned, call on the government of Bahrain to immediately and unconditionally release leading human rights activist Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, whose life is now in grave danger as he enters the 63rd day of his hunger strike, begun in protest at his detention and treatment.
We call for his urgent release on humanitarian grounds, and in conformity to the findings and recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI).
If Abdulhadi Alkhawaja is not released and dies in prison, the Bahrain government will signal a total failure of political will in addressing the human rights violations that occurred in 2011. This would further alienate the already fragile trust of opposition groups and instigate a dangerous collapse of civil society. Mr Alkhawaja is deeply revered and respected by much of the population of Bahrain, as well as the wider region and world. His death could dangerously inflame national tensions which are already escalating.
Mr Alkhawaja was arrested on 8 April 2011 and subjected to cruel and abusive treatment by government employees. A forensic team working for the BICI team investigated his case.
The BICI team found that his jaw was broken “immediately after the arrest” which required “major surgery” to heal. In hospital he was “blindfolded the whole time and handcuffed to the bed with tight cuffs”. He was discharged from hospital, against the recommendations of his doctor, and placed in “solitary confinement in a small cell” where “there was no fresh air”. He experienced “regular beatings at night”, sexual assault and other torture.
Mr Alkhawaja was tried before a military tribunal and given a life sentence for allegedly conspiring to overthrow the Bahrain government. Both his trial and subsequent appeal, which was also heard before a military tribunal, have been heavily criticised by major human rights and legal organisations. The BICI further found that after he was sentenced, he was “beaten by guards”. The findings of the BICI report were also very critical of the quality of the justice Mr Alkhawaja and other political leaders received.
Recommendation 1720 of the BICI report calls for all such military trials to be reviewed before a civilian court. Mr Alkhawaja’s life sentence was due to be reviewed before a civilian court on 2 April 2012. However, on that day a judge postponed the review until 23 April. Mr Alkhawaja has now been on hunger strike for 63 days. The consequent deterioration of his health means that he will likely be dead or comatose before that date.
Mr Alkhawaja began his hunger strike on 8 February 2012. He has stated that he will continue this strike until “freedom or death”. There is no question of his commitment to this stance.
If your government allows Mr Alkhawaja to die in prison, it will send a stark message that it means to ignore the most important recommendations of the BICI report. The message will spread not just across Bahrain, but internationally, to citizens and governments who have relied upon your assurances that you are committed to reform.
You have the power to release Mr Alkhawaja. It will be a stain on Bahrain if his death comes before his freedom.
In the interests of justice and reconciliation in your country, we urgently and respectfully ask you to release Mr Alkhawaja immediately and unconditionally,
Jan Kavan, former President of the UN General Assembly and former Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of the Czech Republic
The Right Honourable Lord Avebury
Jeremy Corbyn, Member of Parliament
Richard Burden, Member of Parliament
Roger Williams, Member of Parliament
Sarah Ludford, Member of the European Parliament
Professor Rasha Abdulla (The American University in Cairo)
Professor Madawi Al-Rasheed (Kings College London)
Professor Rosalyn Baxandall (SUNY, Old Westbury)
Professor John Berg (Suffolk University)
Professor Cyrus Bina (University of Minnesota)
Professor Susan Breau (Flinders University, Australia)
Professor E. Wales Browne (Cornell University)
Professor Colin S. Cavell (formerly University of Bahrain)
Professor F Gregory Gause III (University of Vermont)
Professor Arturo Giraldez (University of the Pacific)
Professor Craig Toby Jones (Rutgers University)
Professor Joan B. Landes (Pennsylvania State University)
Professor Emeritus Jesse Lemisch (City University of New York)
Professor Scott Lucas (University of Birmingham)
Professor Khaleel Mohammed (San Diego State University)
Professor Sajjad Rizvi (University of Exeter)
Professor Sahar Shafqat (St. Mary’s College of Maryland)
Professor William H. Slavick, (University of Southern Maine)
Professor Marlyn Tadros (Northeastern University)
Professor Charles Tripp (SOAS, University of London)
Dr Michele Aaron (University of Birmingham)
Dr Kathleen Cavanaugh (National University of Ireland, Galway)
Dr Christopher Davidson (Durham University)
Dr Mike Diboll (formerly of University of Bahrain)
Dr Harvey L Paige (Fulbright Scholar, University of Bahrain, 2007-8)
Hugo Radice (Life Fellow, University of Leeds)
American Council for Freedom in Bahrain
Bahrain Justice & Development Movement
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Campaign for Peace and Democracy (USA)
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Doctors in Chains
El Nadim Center for the Management and Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence
The Free Egyptian Movement
Front Line Defenders
Hisham Mubarak Law Center, Egypt
Index on Censorship
Millennium Youth Foundation, Ghana
Muslims for Peace
No to Military Trials for Civilians, Egypt
Women Living Under Muslim Laws
Words of Women from the Egyptian Revolution
Youth for Human Rights, Ghana
Ali Alaswad, Former Bahraini MP (2010-2011)
Mohamed Alwan, Former Iraqi Ambassador
Mary Dean, Voices for Creative Nonviolence
Gail Daneker, Friends for a Non-Violent World
Sara Dennedy, Front Line Defenders
Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair, Writers in Prison Committee
Katherine Gallagher, International Board Member of International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH); Senior Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights
Stanley Heller, Chairperson Middle East Crisis Committee
Kathy Kelly, Co-coordinator, Voices for Creative Nonviolence
Mr. Malainin Lakhal, Secretary General of the Saharawi Journalists and Writers Union
Michael Letwin, Esq., Former President, Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW Local 2325
Kathy McKay, Director, Iraqi & American Reconciliation Project
Tara O’Grady, Bahrain Rehabilitation & Anti Violence Organisation
John Pilger, Writer and Broadcaster
Danny Postel, Stand Up! Chicago
William Powell, Welsh Assembly Member
Patricia Sanchez, Rochdale and Littleborough Peace Group
Peter Tatchell, Human Rights Campaigner
Lawrence Weschler, Director, New York Institute for the Humanities at New York University
Hicham Yezza, Editor-in-chief, Ceasefire Magazine
Index on Censorship has dedicated its milestone 250th issue to exploring the increasing threats to reporters worldwide. Its special report, Truth in Danger, Danger in Truth: Journalists Under Fire and Under Pressure, is out soon. Highlights include Lindsey Hilsum, writing about her friend and colleague, the murdered war reporter Marie Colvin, and asking whether journalists should still be covering war zones. Stephen Grey looks at the difficulties of protecting sources in an era of mass surveillance.