Bahraini king pardons rights campaigner Nabeel Rajab

Nabeel Rajab during a protest in London in September (Photo: Milana Knezevic)

Nabeel Rajab during a protest in London in September (Photo: Milana Knezevic)

Index welcomes King Hamad of Bahrain’s pardoning of human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, who was in the third month of a six-month sentence connected to his expressing an opinion in a tweet. According to Bahrain’s official news agency, Rajab was pardoned over fears for his health.

However, the country must do more to respect the freedom of expression of its citizens by dropping all charges against political prisoners whose so-called crimes have been to campaign for greater democratic rights, or expressing opinions.

“This action by the king undoes a grave miscarriage of justice. But Rajab is just one of the campaigners that have been targeted with judicial harassment by the Bahraini government. Index calls on King Hamad to pardon all the political prisoners currently serving sentences on spurious charges,” Index on Censorship CEO Jodie Ginsberg said.

Rajab is among the Gulf region’s most well-known human rights activists. He is the president of the Index award-winning Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), and a member of the advisory committee of the Human Rights Watch Middle East division. Since the Bahraini uprising of 2011, he has been arrested on numerous occasions and had his house tear-gassed for leading protests in which he and others voiced criticism of the Bahraini government.

Having been imprisoned between August 2012 and May 2014, Rajab was once again arrested in October 2014 and charged with “insulting a public institution”. His crime related to tweets in which he alleged that some Bahraini soldiers may have defected to the Islamic State, referring to Bahraini institutions as “ideological incubators”. In May, his six-month prison sentence was upheld.

This article was posted on 14 July 2015 at

Bahrain: Nabeel Rajab and Zainab Al-Khawaja trials postponed

Nabeel Rajab during a protest in London in September (Photo: Milana Knezevic)

Nabeel Rajab during a protest in London in September (Photo: Milana Knezevic)

President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) and director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), Nabeel Rajab, is due to face trial on Sunday 2 November. Rajab was charged after he allegedly “denigrated government institutions” on Twitter, according to the Ministry of Interior.

Rajab was released from prison in May after serving a two years on charges which included making offensive tweets.

zainab-al-khawaja 2

The trial against Zainab Al-Khawaja was delayed until December, her sister Maryam Al-Khawaja reported on Twitter on 30 Oct. The prominent human rights defender is currently eight months pregnant and could face up to seven years in prison. Al-Khawaja is the sister of Maryam Al-Khawaja, who held a press conference at Index earlier this month urging the UK government to speak out against human rights violations in Bahrain. Zainab Al-Khawaja faces charges of publicly insulting King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa for ripping up a photo of him when she was recently in court over charges connected to previous rights campaigning. A verdict is expected on Thursday 30 October.

According to the 2012 Index advocacy award-winning BCHR, a total of 40 arbitrary arrests, including three children under the age of 18, were documented last week.  Six individuals were released, leaving over 3000 prisoners still in arbitrary detention.

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

This article was originally posted on 28 October and updated on 30 October at

Bahrain: Maryam Alkhawaja released


Maryam al Khawaja has been released

Political activist Maryam Alkhawaja has been released from prison but the charges against her still stand.

Alkhawaja was arrested at the end of last month when she travelled to Bahrain to visit her father, prominent human rights defender and co-founder of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, who has now been on hunger strike for almost four weeks.

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, head of advocacy at Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (Bird), told Index on Censorship he felt Maryam Alkhawaja’s release was a clear example of how international advocacy can be a success. However, he said they are still concerned about her: “We are kind of really getting mixed messages whether her release is just to ease the international pressure,” he added.

A guarantee of a residing address, and a travel ban were the conditions of Alkhawaja’s release. She is also due in court at the beginning of next month, to face charges of assaulting a police officer, which she denies.

Khalid Ibrahim, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) co-director, said: “We call on the government of Bahrain to immediately drop the charges and free her without conditions.”

This week BCHR and GCHR wrote an open letter to Abdulhadi Alkhawaja urging him to end his hunger strike as his life is at serious risk due to prolonged starvation. He also undertook a hunger strike in 2012 which lasted for 110 days.

Abdulhadi Alkhawaja responded from prison yesterday. Thanking his friends for their concern, he added: “But as the world can see we’re in a situation where our only choice to demand rights and freedoms is by risking our lives.”

Ibrahim added, “Abdulhadi should also be freed, along with other wrongfully detained human rights defenders who have been targeted as a result of their peaceful and legitimate activities in defence of human rights.”

Yesterday, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) and Bird, along with co-sponsors from several NGOs, hosted an event at the 27th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, entitled Tracking Bahrain’s UPR (Universal Periodic Review) Inaction Through 2014.

The discussion was moderated by prominent human rights activist and president of the BCHR, Nabeel Rajab. Speakers at the event were Philippe Dam (Human Rights Watch), Said Haddadi (Amnesty International), James Suzano (ADHRB), Abdulnabi al Ekri (Bahrain Human Rights Organisation – BHRO) and Nidal al Salman (BCHR).

Alwadaei said the event received good coverage, and it was very beneficial for political prisoners in Bahrain. “It was a place where they would hear their voice, where they will basically believe that they are not on their own in this struggle, there is an international community monitoring so they are not isolated,” he told Index.

Also this week, women’s rights defender Ghada Jamsheer was arrested and detained on charges of defamation on Twitter. GCHR and BCHR say her online blog has been blocked in Bahrain since 2009, and they believe these recent charges to be a direct violation of her human rights.

This article was posted on 19 September 2014 at

Bahrain Center for Human Rights wins Norwegian Rafto Prize

Maryam Alkhawaja accepts the Rafto Prize on behalf of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (Image: Lind and Lunde/Rafto Foundation)

Maryam Alkhawaja accepts the Rafto Prize on behalf of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (Image: Lind and Lunde/Rafto Foundation)

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) was awarded the Rafto Prize for human rights at a ceremony in Bergen, Norway last night.

BCHR won for its peaceful fight for fundamental rights of freedom of expression and assembly in the Gulf kingdom, the award committee said.

Acting president of BCHR, Maryam Alkhawaja, was in Bergen to accept the prize. President Nabeel Rajab has been imprisoned since July 2012 for criticising authorities on Twitter. Marayam’s father and sister, Abdulhadi and Zainab, prominent human rights defenders in Bahrain, are also jailed for their opposition to the regime.

“The person who should be on this stage is not me but the people on the streets in Bahrain. They are the unnamed heroes,” Alkhawaja said in her acceptance speech.

She also read out a letter from Rajab: “Brutal violations are still continuing today against peaceful Bahrainis while the whole world continues to stay silent, especially Bahrain’s western allies. Our nation is a victim of being in an oil rich region and a victim of hypocrisies and double standards. Unfortunately, dictators of the gulf region succeeded in silencing governments of the free world in return for shortsighted economic and financial gains. Petrodollars have been able to silence global media and prevent them from revealing our people’s sufferings. We hope that with your support we can overcome this thick barrier as it has become so painful for our people to understand why the whole world deserves freedom and democracy except the small nations of oil rich countries in Gulf.”

The award committee echoed these sentiments: “This is a region where abuses too often are met with silence from western governments. Norwegian authorities have done nothing since expressing concerns in 2011,” said committee leader Martin Paulsen.

BCHR was established in 2002. It has played a vital part in Bahrain’s democracy uprising, now in its fourth year, in the face of the regime’s continued crackdown on opposition. BCHR won Index on Censorship’s Advocacy Award in 2012.

The Rafto Prize is awarded by the Norwegian Rafto Foundation. It is an increasingly influential human rights award, and a number of recipients have later gone on to win the Nobel Peace Prize.