Jan 05, 2023

Al-Khawaja's letter to the Court

January 5, 2023

In The Name of Allah Most Gracious Most Merciful,
Honorable President of the Second High Criminal Court of Appeal,
Peace, mercy and blessings of God,

On the occasion of the court session being held today on Thursday, January 5, 2023, to consider criminal case No. 07/2022/09680, which was originally filed against me by the Jau Central Prison administration and then the Public Prosecution, on the charge of insulting a foreign country (Israel) and the charge of insulting a public employee (a policeman accused of torturing prisoners). And since I was prevented from attending all the past sessions in both courts (the lower court and the appeal court), and due to there being an intentional delay in the process of appointing a defense lawyer and in allowing visits from said lawyer, as well as a delay in my access to the files of the cases brought against me. These obstructions have disrupted my ability to defend myself in the two cases that are now subject to appeal.

I anticipate that, once again, there will be obstacles placed to prevent my transfer from prison to the courtroom for the session dedicated to presenting my defense case, which is also my last opportunity to do so. As a result, I have instructed my defense lawyer to withdraw from today’s session in the event that he is unable to visit me prior to the hearing session or if I am not permitted to attend. For the same reasons, I am submitting this letter to the court, which pertains to the case currently under consideration as well as similar cases that the prison administration has brought against me or may file in the future. This letter is also addressed to all parties interested in upholding human rights and achieving justice.

First: With regards to my identity as a defendant:

According to the indictment documents, my profession is listed as an executive director, which was my occupation at the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. This Center was closed[1] in December 2004, leading to my arrest and subsequent trial. These events were a result of the release of reports and the holding of workshops about privileges and discrimination in Bahrain, such as the violation of civil and political rights and the impact of corruption on economic and social rights for citizens. As for my job in the years prior to my arrest in 2011, I was the regional coordinator for Front Line Defenders, an international organization dedicated to protecting human rights defenders with its headquarters in Dublin in the Republic of Ireland.

Second: Regarding the reasons for my imprisonment:

As is noted in the indictment documents, I am currently serving a life sentence for my alleged attempt to overthrow the government, due to my participation in the popular uprising in Bahrain in February and March 2011 as a human rights activist. However, the military and civilian courts that heard my case were unable to provide any legal evidence to support this unjust ruling. The Bassiouni Commission (BICI), which was appointed by the King of Bahrain and which investigated the causes of the peaceful popular uprising in 2011 and the subsequent repression, killings, arbitrary arrests, and torture, included my case[2] as one of the clear examples of violations in their report. Furthermore, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention reviewed my case file and determined[3] in 2012 that my trial was unfair and that my continued detention is arbitrary. Since then, various international organizations have called for my release and the release of all prisoners of conscience and political prisoners in Bahrain.

Third: With regard to the criminal records included in the case papers by the Public Prosecution:

There are a total of 19 cases listed from 2004 until now. Upon review of these cases, I have found the following:

  1. Four of these cases were initiated by the prosecution prior to 2011, and they are all related to my human rights activities. One of these cases involves a charge of inciting hatred of the regime based on my speech at a mass gathering in January 2009. Another case was filed against me by the Bahrain Airport Security Services in March 2010 in order to justify my removal from a plane while en route to Dublin, Republic of Ireland to participate in the organizing of the international conference on Human Rights Defenders.
  2. According to the criminal record provided by the prosecution, 15 cases have taken place and the prosecution has taken action against me during my time in prison from 2011 until now. Of these cases, 6 are criminal in nature, while the remaining 9 are administrative cases.

With regard to the criminal cases:

They included the prosecution against me in October 2011 while I was in prison, of “broadcasting false news and inciting hatred of the regime, etc”. In April, I was accused of “insulting a public servant”, a Yemeni policeman accused of torturing prisoners. In April 2017, I was accused of “submitting a false report against prison officers” that they had taken part in  the torture of inmates.

Then comes the two current cases before the Court of Appeal. The first case, dating back to November 2021, charges me with “intentional damage” due to my protest and hunger strike when I was prevented from contacting my daughters, Zainab and Maryam, who reside outside of Bahrain and are human rights defenders.

The second case, dating back to March 2022, charges me with insulting a foreign country, Israel, and insulting a public servant, a Yemeni policeman who has been accused of torturing prisoners, particularly in 2015. This includes the prisoner Zuhair Ashour, who was transferred with us in April 2022.

The last criminal case, which is currently in the inference stage and has not yet been transferred to court, accuses me of the felony of “incitement to overthrow or change the regime.” This is due to my slogans calling for the removal of the Minister of Interior in July 2022, who is responsible for torturing me, and the removal of the agents of Israel. The latter case relates to my protest against normalization with Israel and their actions towards the Palestinians, as well as my protest against being denied necessary treatment for the effects of torture.

The nine administrative cases:

These cases contained in the criminal record submitted by the Public Prosecution are all related to my hunger strikes while in prison in February and October 2012, March 2013, January and August 2014, April, June and November 2017, February 2018, and November 2021. These strikes were acts of protest against being subjected to torture and mistreatment and being deprived of basic rights such as medical treatment and communication with family, as well as against collective punishment and the torture of prisoners in other buildings.

Fourth:  The escalation of positive international interaction with the cases of prisoners of conscience and political prisoners in Bahrain, the continuation of the attention brought to my case and the cases of other prisoners in international fora, and then my nomination for the Human Rights Award in 2021 and my receiving of said award in 2022, all of this has caused an  escalation in targeting me and other prisoners. Especially those who protest or succeed in revealing the truth about what is going on inside the prison. This [targeting] is through intimidation, deprivation of basic rights, restriction of communication [with family] abroad, and then, last but not least, fabricating criminal cases to deter and defame. This is the real background to the cases filed against me and against hundreds of other prisoners of conscience and political prisoners in Bahrain.

Fifth: The exposure of the policy of discrimination between prisoners in relation to the application of the alternative punishment law was embarrassing for the authorities, who make a huge effort to promote and improve their reputation in the field of prisoners’ rights. It seems that the authorities have found that the best way to justify my exclusion and the exclusion of hundreds of other prisoners of conscience and political prisoners from benefiting from the alternative punishment law is to issue criminalizing decisions and sentences against these prisoners to justify their exclusion since it requires a record of good behavior and conduct in prison.

Sixth: Regarding the details of the two cases currently before the Court of Appeal, the main witness in the two cases is Deputy Corporal Marwan Al-Khudhairi, a policeman known for torturing dozens of prisoners, especially in 2015. One of his victims is Sheikh Zuhair Ashour, who was beaten all over his body for three consecutive days with his head tied in a bag. There are many other documented cases against this individual, and I am attaching them to this letter. Not only is this person a model of systematic torture and impunity, but he also represents the policy of empowering perpetrators of torture and making them agents responsible for managing the affairs of the prison buildings. I have previously written about this individual and this policy to the prison director, but to no avail.

Seventh: In the case related to my protest on November 14, 2021, due to being prevented from contacting my two daughters who reside abroad, the building official present during the protest was the Chief of Corps, Saleh Muhammad al-Wasa’i, who is Yemeni. However, in the case papers submitted to the court last month, the only witness in this case is the Deputy Corporal, torturer Marwan al-Khudayri. He claimed that he was in charge of the building and that there were no other witnesses. This is an example of tampering with evidence against me and several other prisoners.

Eighth: Upon examining the file of this case and similar cases, it becomes clear that there is a complex network of laws, procedures, and security, legal, and judicial institutions working in unison to violate the rights of prisoners, especially those who oppose the regime, rather than protecting those rights. This is largely due to the support of the British government, which has not only supported the existing regime and built up its security services since the colonial period until 1970, during which they directly suppressed protests and imprisoned and prosecuted dissidents in Bahrain. Currently as well, the British government uses Bahrain as a military, security, and economic base, while also providing technical and consultative support to the security services in Bahrain. It also defends the government’s practices in international fora. The British embassy in Bahrain holds monthly meetings with official security and legal agencies, and employs counselors with experience in notorious prisons in Northern Ireland[4], while also holding training workshops and courses with the assistance of British academic institutions. These institutions have ties to figures such as Prince Andrew[5], who has been accused of sexually harassing minors. There are also one-sided valuable gifts given to the British royal palace, such as purebred Arabian horses[6]. British diplomats in Bahrain also stand to benefit personally, as many retire to the Gulf and enter into financial and commercial partnerships. For example, the British Ambassador Ian Lindsay, who served[7] in Bahrain as Ambassador from 2011 to 2015, during the most sensitive years following the popular uprising. As this ambassador had played a malicious role during those years, he later returned to Bahrain in December[8] 2020 to claim his reward as he was appointed as an advisor to the Bahrain Economic Development Board. In the future, it is possible that Israeli advisors currently in Bahrain will play a significant role in transferring their expertise in suppressing the Palestinian people to the security services and the Bahraini judicial system.

In conclusion, what happened and is happening to me is nothing but a model of hundreds of the worst and most severe cases against prisoners who are deprived of any voice or the ability to defend themselves. I will continue to use every legitimate means at my disposal to defend my rights and the rights of other prisoners. For me, surrendering or giving in is not an option. Any ruling issued by your court or any other court or judge will only reveal the true nature of the justice system in Bahrain and will not change the fact that justice has not been served.

May peace and the blessings of God be upon you.

Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja

Jau Prison

[1] In 2004, the BCHR was closed down, and Al-Khawaja was arrested

[2] A report by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), published in November 2011 at the request of the Bahraini king. It says, “Immediately after the arrest, the detainee received a hard blow to the side of his face, which broke his jaw and knocked him to the ground. He was taken to the Ministry of Interior (MoI) clinic and then the Bahrain Defence Forces (BDF) Hospital where he had major jaw surgery for four broken bones in his face.” Al-Khawaja was subjected to additional severe physical, psychological and sexual torture in detention (as described in the BICI report, as Case No. 8, pg 438.)

[3] The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that Al-Khawaja’s arrest is arbitrary, as it resulted from his exercise of the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association, and called for his release.

[4] Britain helps train ‘violent’ Bahraini police – The Times

[5] Prince Andrew and his visit to Middle East torture hub – The Time

[6] Queen’s meeting with king of Bahrain prompts protests – The Guardian

[7] Iain Lindsay OBE, previously held the position of Her Majesty’s Ambassador in Manama from 2011 to 2015

[8] Ian Lindsay was appointed as advisor to the Bahrain Economic Development Board in 2020