Dec 29, 2022

Human Rights Defender Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja threatened with an additional up to 10 year prison sentence

  • 29 December 2022 – Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja, Bahrain’s leading human rights defender and Danish citizen, is facing a potential charge of “inciting hatred against the regime” that could carry up to 10 years in prison. The charge is currently filed and “under investigation” at the public prosecution, and could be moved to trial at any time. 
  • In addition, today, the Second Lower Appeal Court in Bahrain heard appeals on the two convictions against Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja, who was again denied the right to attend his own hearings.
  • In the first case, the judge ruled to postpone the hearing until the 5th of January. Important to note, this is a week’s delay during which three out of the five working days are a public holiday in Bahrain. This ruling was in relation to a conviction against Mr. Al-Khawaja of insulting a public servant, in reference to a police officer at Jau Prison, where the sentence upheld against him is to pay a fine of 100 Bahraini Dinar (BHD), equivalent to £220 UK pounds or $266 US dollars.
  • In the second case, heard by the same court, the judge, in a ruling that violates Bahrain’s own laws, ruled that Mr. Al-Khawaja does not have the right to appeal. This case was related to Mr. Al-Khawaja being convicted and fined 60 Bahraini Dinar (BHD) on the charge of breaking a plastic chair (10 BHD of which was the determined value of the chair), equivalent to £133 UK Pounds or $160 US dollars. This had occurred when Al-Khawaja was again denied his right to call his daughters in exile where he broke a plastic chair in protest, injuring his own hand.
  • These cases and hearings against Al-Khawaja have been marred by violations of his right to due process, which includes denying him to attend the trial sessions and being represented by a defence lawyer of his choice. Today’s hearings made the lack of due process even more evident:
  • The court was told that Al-Khawaja again refused to attend his hearings. The lawyer refuted this and informed the judge that Al-Khawaja had told them himself that he would attend regardless of the circumstances. This was later confirmed by Al-Khawaja who called his daughter and stated: “They told me this morning they would take me and I said I was ready. Then they came back and said but it’ll be on the ‘Turkish bus’, and I said I’ll go anyway. He then left and came back and said but we’ll put chains on you and I said fine. They never came back to take me. It was as if they were trying to find an excuse to not take me.” 
  • The lawyers requested that the judge order that they receive the paperwork from the convictions on November 29th (which they should have received the same day as the rulings), and to allow a visit to Mr. Al-Khawaja before the next hearing (despite multiple follow up attempts, the lawyers were delayed for almost three weeks before receiving a last minute visit on the 27th of December to Mr. Al-Khawaja). However, the judge stated that it is not the role of the court to issue such decisions and that the lawyers must go through the official channels. The lawyers are still waiting on the written appeal judgement by the court to look into the reasons on why the Court rejected his right to appeal, despite that ruling violating Bahraini law, namely his right attend the trial and to be represented by defence lawyer of his choice
  • As noted by his daughter, Maryam Al-Khawaja: “Not only are these cases reprisals against my father in an attempt to silence him and warn others; they also guarantee that he will not be eligible for any form of early release or release under the alternative punishment law. The pending case that could potentially carry an additional 10 year sentence is very clearly a threat, not just to my father, but to us as a family. It is becoming more and more important that there be adequate international pressure for my father’s release, in order to avoid him paying the price for Bahrain’s current status of international impunity.” 

Background info on Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja  

Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja is a prominent human rights defender and Danish-Bahraini citizen  who was detained in 2011 in Bahrain after leading peaceful protests calling for fundamental  freedoms and rights in Bahrain. Almost 12 years later, he remains at Jau Prison facing dire  prison conditions and systematic denial of medical treatment.

Al-Khawaja is a life-long human rights defender, activist and leader, founder and former  president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, co-founder of the Gulf Center for Human  Rights, former MENA Protection Coordinator at Front Line Defenders, published writer and  poet, 2013 Nobel Peace Prize nominee, husband, father, and grandfather. In June 2022 he received the highest human rights recognition, the Martin Ennals Award.

In November 2011, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry documented in a report  that Al-Khawaja was subjected to torture and sexually assaulted by security forces in 2011,  stating that “Immediately after the arrest, the detainee received a hard blow to the side of his  face, which broke his jaw”, “Security personnel in the hospital threatened him with sexual  abuse and execution” and threatened his family, and “spent two months in solitary  confinement in a small cell measuring approximately 2.5m x 2m” and that “masked guards”  beat him “routinely” and sexually assaulted him, amongst other serious violation.