Bahrain: Maryam Al-Khawaja urges UK to speak out on human rights violations
17 Oct 14

Nine human rights organisations called on the British government on Friday to speak out publicly in the case of activists currently being detained in Bahrain. Prominent human rights defenders Nabeel Rajab, Zainab Al-Khawaja and Ghada Jamsheer have all been arrested and face lengthy prison sentences in Bahrain for cases of peaceful expression.

This echoes the message from Maryam Al-Khawaja, a prominent Bahraini activist and co-director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, earlier this week.

You can imprison a human rights defender, but you can’t stop the human rights cause, Al-Khawaja told a packed press conference in London on Wednesday, organised by Index on Censorship and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD).

She urged UK authorities to speak out about rights abuses in her country, which she said is being run like a business by the ruling Al-Khalifa family. This comes after the arrest of her colleague, 2012 Index advocacy award-winner Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) president Nabeel Rajab. He is facing charges of insulting government institutions on Twitter. His trail opens on 19 October.

Also on Wednesday, her sister Zainab Al-Khawaja, who is 8 months pregnant, was sentenced to seven days’ detention for publicly insulting King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa by ripping up a picture of him in court. She was in court over charges connected to her previous human rights campaigning.

Al-Khawaja, a dual Danish and Bahraini citizen, was herself recently released on bail after being arrested at Bahrain International Airport when trying to enter the country to see her father.  She said: “I was stopped at the airport where I was told falsely that my citizenship had been revoked.”

She was then assaulted by police at the airport, and is still recovering from a torn muscle in her shoulder as a result. The police officer who assaulted her later filled charges against Al-Khawaja, presenting a scratched finger as medical evidence.

Al-Khawaja spoke of her time in Isa Town women’s prison, where she spent 19 days; she described poor sanitation and said there were no nurses or doctors available at night and it took 45 minutes for ambulances to reach the facility.

Al-Khawaja’s father, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, the founder of 2012 Index award winner BCHR, is serving a life sentence after playing a prominent role in the country’s 2011 pro-democracy protests.

Al Khawaja described how changes could be implemented in Bahrain, saying there is a need for pressure from countries such as the UK and US, who have the capability to make sure the government respect human rights.

“Reform can be implemented and enforced by accountability,” she said.

Nominations are now open for the Index Freedom of Expression Awards 2015. Put forward your free expression heroes here.

Nabeel Rajab Arbitrarily Detained

Please ask your MP to support the campaign by writing to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. (This web app will take you to the website of the Bahrain Institute of Rights and Democracy)

Maryam Al-Khawaja spoke about her arrest, Nabeel Rajab’s case and more in her opening statement

She also described conditions inside Isa Town Prison, where she was held for 19 days

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This article was originally posted on 15 October 2014 and updated on 17 October 2014 at

By Milana Knezevic

Milana Knezevic is the Assistant Editor, Online and News of Index on Censorship