NGOs call for unconditional release of Bahraini human rights defender

On Tuesday, 12 July 2016, the trial of the prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab was set to begin. His case has been postponed until 2 August 2016. Facing charges related to comments on the social media website Twitter, Rajab may be sentenced to more than ten years in prison. We, the undersigned NGOs, hold the government of Bahrain responsible for the deterioration of Rajab’s health due to poor detention conditions. We call on the Bahraini authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Rajab, and to drop all charges against him. 

Rajab is a leading Bahraini human rights defender, well known in the region – and worldwide – for his defense of human rights, and his efforts towards more freedom for all. As a result of his work he has been repeatedly jailed. He is the President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Founding Director of the regional Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), Deputy Secretary General of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and is also on the Advisory Committee of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Division.

On 13 June 2016, in the early hours of the morning, Rajab was arrested without any declared reason. He was not informed of his charges until the following day, when he was brought before the public prosecution and officially charged with “spreading false news and rumors about the internal situation in a bid to discredit Bahrain.” He was then remanded to seven days in custody pending investigation. This charge was in response to statements he gave during past television interviews in early 2015 and 2016.

On 28 June 2016, Rajab was transferred to the Bahrain Defense Hospital’s Coronary Care Unit for an irregular heartbeat. His family was informed that he is also suffering from high blood pressure, a condition for which he was treated two years ago. Despite his weak condition, he was hastily transported from the Coronary Unit back to jail the following day.

Since the arrest, Rajab has been detained in extremely poor conditions in solitary confinement. His cell is filthy, the toilet and shower are unclean and unhygienic, and there is little or no clean water in the bathroom. These conditions have been detrimental to Rajab’s health; he has lost eight kgs in just two weeks. Blood tests have shown that he has acquired both a urinary tract infection and low mononucleosis, and he is awaiting the results of additional screenings. Rajab also needs surgery to treat gallstones and an enlarged gallbladder. He is also suffering from an enlarged prostate and needs to be seen by a hematologist. His surgeries will not be scheduled before August.

On 26 June 2016, the authorities notified Rajab that his first court hearing for another case would be for 12 July 2016. This separate case is related to other tweets and retweets about Jau prison and the war in Yemen, which were posted in 2015. He may face up to 13 years in prison if found guilty, and the authorities have ordered that Rajab remain in detention until his hearing.

We remind the Bahraini government of its obligation to preserve the right to free expression under article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bahrain acceded in 2006. We call for action to be taken to guarantee and protect the health of human rights defender Nabeel Rajab from further deterioration. We reiterate repeated calls by United Nations officials, and others in the international community, to immediately release Rajab.

The Signatories

Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Amnesty Denmark
Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
Bahrain Interfaith
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)
Danish Institute Against Torture
European Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights (EBOHR)
European Center for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Frontline Defenders
Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR)
Human Rights First
Human Rights Sentinel
Index on Censorship
International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR)
Justice for Human Rights (JHRO)
No Peace Without Justice
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR)
Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)
Salam for Democracy and Human Rights
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

For Background Information on Nabeel Rajab, please visit this page, and for any further developments on his case please visit this page as it is regularly updated with the latest information.

Bahrain: Nine arrested for “misusing social media”

Maryam Al-Khawaja spoke out in October for the release of fellow human rights activist Nabeel Rajab. (Photo: David Coscia for Index on Censorship)

Maryam Al-Khawaja spoke out in October for the release of fellow human rights activist Nabeel Rajab. (Photo: David Coscia for Index on Censorship)

Nine people have been arrested in Bahrain for “misusing social media”, a charge which is punishable by a fine or up to two years in prison.

Human rights defender Nabeel Rajab was last week sentenced to six months in prison over a tweet he posted which was deemed insulting to public institutions. Rajab has been bailed, and tweeted on 21 January that he will appeal his conviction on 11 February.

Human Rights Watch has dedicated seven pages of its 25th annual report to Bahrain. The World Report 2015, released on Thursday, reviews the human rights situation in over 90 countries.

The report states that over 200 defendants have been sentenced to long stints in prison by the Bahraini courts on charges of national security or terrorism, with at least 70 of those being sentenced to life.

It says: “Bahrain’s courts convicted and imprisoned peaceful dissenters and failed to hold officials accountable for torture and other serious rights violations. The high rate of successful prosecutions on vague terrorism charges, imposition of long prison sentences, and failure to address the security forces’ use of lethal and apparently disproportionate force all reflected the weakness of the justice system and its lack of independence.”

In December, co-director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), Maryam Al-Khawaja, boycotted a court hearing which saw her sentenced to one year in prison. Al-Khawaja was charged with assaulting two policewomen last year when she traveled to Bahrain to visit her father Abdulhadi, who is currently serving a life sentence for his involvement in anti-government protests in 2011. In related news, the GCHR website was yesterday reportedly blocked in the United Arab Emirates.

Al-Khawaja’s sister Zainab was arrested in October on charges of insulting the king, and gave birth to her second child just a few days before being sentenced to three years in prison. She was then sentenced to an additional 16 months less than a week later, on separate charges of insulting a public official.

This article was published on 30 January 2015 at

Bahrain: Zainab Al-Khawaja sentenced to additional 16 months

zainab-al-khawaja 2

Bahraini human rights activist Zainab Al-Khawaja was handed an additional 16 month sentence for insulting a public official, according to her sister Maryam Al-Khawaja, co-director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights.

Last week, Zainab Al-Khawaja was sentenced to three years in prison and fined 3,000 Bahraini Dinar (£5,000). She was on trial for tearing up a photo of King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa at an October court date where she faced charges connected to previous rights campaigning. This comes only a week after she gave birth to her second child.

In a tweet, Maryam Al-Khawaja criticised the United Kingdom’s decision to move forward with a military base in Bahrain. “UK basically gave Bahrain regime a free pass to do pretty much anything they want,” she wrote.

The Al-Khawaja family have been heavily involved in Bahrain’s pro-democracy movement, and have been continuously targeted by authorities in the constitutional monarchy.

Al-Khawaja’s father Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja has been serving a life sentence since 2011 for the role he played in the country’s ongoing protest movement which started that year. Her sister Maryam Al-Khawaja boycotted the recent court hearing which saw her sentenced to one year in prison on what is widely acknowledged to be trumped up charges.

This article was posted on 9 December 2014 at indexoncensorship

Maryam Al-Khawaja: Why I am boycotting my date with Bahraini justice


As a human rights defender, I, Maryam Al-Khawaja, Director of Advocacy at the Gulf Center for Human Rights, have decided to boycott my court hearing on the 1 December 2014. During this hearing I am due to be sentenced on trumped up charges of assaulting two policewomen at the Bahrain International Airport. (Update: Al-Khawaja was sentenced to one year imprisonment on 1 December)

The decision to boycott the court was reached based on several grounds:

  • The lack of independence and due process in the Bahrain judiciary system:

It has become evidently clear that it is not possible to have a fair and independent trial in Bahraini courts as they stand. The judicial system in Bahrain is highly flawed, and is overrun with egregious human rights violations which usually start during the arrest, and continue throughout what is supposed to be a legal process. I was personally subjected to numerous human rights violations since the moment of arriving in Bahrain and until I was able to leave the country as can be read in my testimony here.

There are medical reports about the injuries I sustained during the assault I was subjected to, for which I continue to need physiotherapy. My case was sped up, and quickly turned for sentencing with complete disregard to legal procedures.

  • The lack of independency and neutrality of the judge himself:

The presiding judge, Mohammed Ali Alkhalifa, in the case brought against me is a member of the ruling family, and has been himself, as well as members of his family, identified previously during my advocacy campaigns as implicated in human rights violations. This makes his presiding over the case a clear case of conflict of interest given the personal grievances he may have against me. This judge in particular, it is important to note, has been involved in the sentencing of numerous human rights defenders including Nabeel Rajab and Naji Fateel in unfair trials.

  • The cooperation of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) with the Ministry of Interior:

During my imprisonment I met with the SIU, headed by Nawaf Hamza, to submit a complaint against the three policewomen and the first lieutenant who assaulted me at the airport. The prosecutor, Mohammed Al-Hazaa, rewrote my statement in his own words, attempting to implicate me in violations, and refused to correct what he had misquoted. This resulted in my refusal to sign the papers and filing of a complaint against the prosecutor. One day before the sentencing, namely on the 30th of November 2014, and due to almost daily follow up by my lawyer, the public prosecution notified him that the complaint case had been revoked. Despite my complaint about the assault since the beginning of my arrest, it was only one day before the sentencing that my lawyer was finally able to get a statement from the public prosecution that my complaint case had been revoked, at a time when the trumped up assault charges against myself were speedily processed and turned for sentencing.

  • The violation of my rights by the public prosecution:

During the interrogation I was subjected to, I was refused access to my lawyer by the prosecutor dealing with my case. During my imprisonment my lawyer was not given any visits, nor was the Danish embassy. The way that the public prosecution deals with politically motivated cases is it uses all aspects of the government to provide impunity for the perpetrators of violations.

Based on the reasons stated above, I find any and all cooperation with the court or attendance of the hearings by myself as a problematic legitimisation of an unfair and biased court. Therefore I have decided to boycott the hearings, and have asked my lawyer to do the same.

It is important to note here, if I, as a human rights defender, whose case receives international media and diplomatic attention is handled in this way; it is gravely concerning how cases not receiving attention are handled by the authorities in Bahrain.

Maryam Al-Khawaja
Director of Advocacy
Gulf Center for Human Rights
30th November 2014

This statement was originally posted on the website of the Gulf Center for Human Rights on 30 November