UPDATE 4 September 17:22: Maryam Alkhawaja has a court date scheduled for 9am on Saturday 6 September, according to Travis Brimhall, head of the international office at the Bahrain Center for Human Rights.
Prominent human rights activist Maryam Alkhawaja has been jailed in Bahrain. She was detained at Bahrain International Airport on Friday as she tried to enter the country, and has yet to meet with her lawyer.
Alkhawaja, a dual Danish-Bahraini citizen, had her Danish passport confiscated and was told she no longer held Bahraini citizenship. She was also barred from using her phone or contacting her family, according to the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), the organisation of which she is co-director. GCHR also reported that she was interrogated on charges of assaulting and injuring police officers, while lawyer Mohamed Al Jishi said he was not allowed to speak to his client before she was questioned. She is currently held in Isa Town women’s prison.
Alkhawaja was travelling to see her imprisoned father, who last week started a hunger strike. Abdulhadi Alkhawaja is a Bahraini human rights campaigner who co-founded the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), which won the 2012 Index Freedom of Expression Award for Advocacy. He was sentenced to life in prison on terrorism charges following pro-democracy protests that swept the country in 2011. Abdulhadi and his daughters Maryam and Zainab are outspoken critics of human rights violations in the constitutional monarchy, which is categorised as “not free” by Freedom House.
The case first gained attention after Alkhawaja tweeted about being detained on Friday, and an unnamed person close to the family continues to provide updates through her Twitter account. On Saturday, the account reported that she is also facing charges of insulting the king of Bahrain and over an anti-impunity campaign she was involved with in November 2013.
This comes as the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bahrain on Sunday upheld a 10-year sentence on photographer Ahmad Humaidan. He was convicted over an attack on a police station in 2012, but human rights groups believe the case against him is connected to his coverage of pro-democracy demonstrations.
Nabeel Rajab, BCHR – winner of Bindmans Award for Advocacy at the Index Freedom of Expression Awards 2012
Index on Censorship has called upon the Bahraini government to release 2012 Index Freedom of Expression Award winner Nabeel Rajab and other prisoners of conscience, and honour its promises to uphold freedom of expression.
Index’s Chief Executive Kirsty Hughes said:
“The continued imprisonment of Nabeel Rajab and other activists shows that Bahrain is not serious about reform. The targeting of human rights activists and imprisonment of prisoners of conscience shows that government commitments to reform are for now meaningless.
“Index calls on the Bahrain government to respect the right to peaceful protest and the right to free speech, to end its violations of these rights and to implement fully the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission for Inquiry (BICI).”
According to the Project on Middle East Democracy, the government of Bahrain has only succeeded in fully implementing three of the 26 recommendations made by the Bahrain Independent Commission for Inquiry (BICI) report in November 2011.
Members of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) have faced repression from Bahrain’s regime for their tireless work documenting human rights violations committed by the government, since popular protests began on 14 February 2011. According to BCHR, there have been 89 deaths since the start of the country’s uprising.
In March 2012, accepting the Index on Censorship Advocacy award on behalf of BCHR, human rights activist Nabeel Rajab said that the international community heard little about uprisings in Bahrain because “we have oil”. He is currently serving a two-year sentence for organising so-called “illegal gatherings”. The founder of BCHR, Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, is on hunger-strike to protest his ill-treatment in prison. Alkhawaja is currently serving a life sentence for allegedly plotting to overthrow the ruling regime. His daughter Zainab is also on hunger strike and serving a three-month jail sentence.
In April, international attention will once again turn to Bahrain when it hosts the Formula 1 Grand Prix. Last year, the Bahraini government attempted to use the race to gain positive international attention while continuing to clamp down on protesters who are critical of the regime.
Bahrain’s Court of Cassation today postponed issuing a verdict in the appeal of 13 opposition activists, including well-known human rights activist and Bahrain Center for Human Rights founder Abdulhadi Alkhawaja. The verdict will now be issued on 7 January, a request to release the activists pending the verdict was rejected. The activists, who are all serving sentences between five years and life, were first sentenced by a military court in June 2011 for their role in the country’s ongoing unrest.
A Bahraini woman holds up the victory sign at a rally in May | Demotix
As violence escalates in the Gulf kingdom, the country’s government has taken new measures in the name of national security. According to an announcement made last night on the state-run Bahrain TV, the country’s government has decided to strip 31 activists of their citizenship for “being a threat to national security”. The list is mostly made up of political activists, including UK-based Saeed Shehabi and Ali Mushaima, who have been outspoken in criticising the country’s regime, and Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society member Jawad Fairouz, who was a member of parliament before resigning in protest of the country’s brutal response demonstrations that began on 14 February last year.
This is not a new tactic for Bahrain: The country alsorevoked the citizenship of outspoken activists in the 1980s and 1990s, forcing them into exile. The latest move, however, violates Article 17 of Bahrain’s 2002 constitution:
a. Bahraini nationality shall be determined by law. A person inherently enjoying his Bahraini nationality cannot be stripped of his nationality except in case of treason, and such other cases as prescribed by law.
b. It is prohibited to banish a citizen from Bahrain or prevent him from returning to it.
The decision comes after the tragic death of two migrant workers and the injury of another on 5 November following a bomb blast in Bahrain’s capital, Manama. While none of the 31 activists have been linked to the explosion, Bahrain continues to makeefforts to portray the country’s uprising as violent.
Earlier this year, the attention around the hunger strike of imprisoned human rights activist Abdulhadi Alkhawaja and a brutal crackdown on protesters squashed Bahrain’s chances of whitewashing its public image with the Formula One race in April. After the BICI report was presented in November 2011, Bahrain’s government was determined to make the uprising history, but its unfulfilled pledges to reform came back to haunt it in the lead up to the race.
As Alkhawaja’s health deteriorated, the international community placed immense pressure on the Bahraini government to release him to Denmark, where he is also a citizen. Denmark granted Alkhawaja asylum in 1991, and the country’s government has been active in lobbying for his release. The activist moved back to Bahrain in 2001, and was jailed for his role in the country’s uprising in 2011. An editorial published in the Gulf Daily News in the race lead-up explored the “problem” of dual-citizens, claiming it was a “get out of jail free card” for criminals.
Bahrain’s failure to follow through on promised BICI-related reforms, as well as a disregard for its own constitution, signals a chilling next stage for the country. The country’s most recent violence is testament to Bahrain’s failure to diffuse unrest with reforms, rather than force.
Sara Yasin is an editorial assistant at Index on Censorship. She tweets at @missyasin