Human Rights Defender and Danish-Bahraini Citizen, Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja, faces multiple new charges amidst judicial harassment in Bahrain
- Tomorrow 16 November, renowned human rights defender and dual Danish-Bahraini citizen, Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja will be tried in Bahrain’s Second Lower Criminal Court over new criminal charges linked to his protesting of punitive measures in Jau Prison. This represents the first amongst multiple new cases levelled by authorities against Al-Khawaja which see him facing separate trials on charges including insulting Israel and inciting to change the regime from prison.
- Al-Khawaja will also go to court next week on charges of insulting a foreign state, namely Israel. It will be the first time a prisoner faces a court hearing in the country over a peaceful protest held behind prison walls since Bahrain declared normalisation with Israel in 2020.
- On 6 November Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja informed his family of the new series of criminal charges brought against him in Bahrain. Al-Khawaja stated that he is currently facing three legal cases and expects a fourth one (see case details below).
- Authorities’ sudden decision to level multiple charges against Al-Khawaja, all simultaneously and some of the charges being related to alleged incidents from a year ago, is a flagrant act of reprisal in the form of judicial harassment.
- After trying, and failing, for many years to silence him through torture and mistreatment, denial of adequate medical care, violation of his basic rights and many threats, the new charges appear to be a renewed attempt at silencing an human rights defender whose voice continues to be loud even after more than a decade behind bars.
Case #1: Right to make phone calls to his daughters in enforced exile (Trial tomorrow, 16 November 2022)
On Wednesday 16 November 2022, Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja will be tried at Bahrain’s Second Lower Criminal Court.
- In court, Al-Khawaja will be charged with breaking a plastic chair and “verbally insulting” a police officer at the notorious Jau Prison.
- On Tuesday 15 November, the day before he will face the first case, Al-Khawaja explained to his daughter Zainab Al-Khawaja, that the alleged incident is from a year ago, when he was being denied his right to call his daughters who are abroad. He told the prison guard that it was his right and not charity to make phone calls to all his daughters and repeated “I want to call my kids” “I have the right to call my kids”.
- Al-Khawaja then launched a hunger strike to demand his right to call his family. As a result his blood sugar dropped to a dangerous low level. He ended the hunger strike after he was allowed to make the calls.
- This will be his second hearing on this case, the first one was held on 3 November 2022 and Al-Khawaja did not attend.
Case #2: Insulting a foreign state (Israel) 21 November 2022
- This case is related to charges of allegedly insulting a foreign state [Israel] and insulting a public servant.
- Al-Khawaja told his daughter Zainab that on 30 March 2022 when he was chanting against the normalisation deal with Israel, a prison officer named Marwan came to him and Al-Khawaja said “You treat prisoners like animals. I don’t want to speak to you and you’re not a good person”. This same officer then brought the case against Al-Khawaja.
- This was not the first incident with Officer Marwan, who has reportedly tortured a cellmate of Al-Khawaja’s and continued to intimidate and harass him; which caused Al-Khawaja to stand up to him and tell him to leave the cell.
Case #3: Incitement to overthrow or change the regime
- This case consists of serious criminal charges of incitement to overthrow, or change, the regime and is likely to be overseen by a high court. It is expected that Al-Khawaja will be called into the Office of the Public Prosecution about this case in the coming days.
- On 27 or 28 July 2022, authorities were supposed to take Al-Khawaja to the hospital for treatment for his back.
- They insisted that he must be transferred to the hospital on the “Turkish bus”. This bus has very small chairs made out of metal, which are surrounded by metal bars so you cannot move or stand up.
- The vehicle has no windows or ventilation and prisoners are kept inside for up to 4 hours at a time. In the summer prisoners report that it becomes like an oven.
- Although Al-Khawaja did not want to go in the vehicle because instead of getting medical care, it would make his back worse, authorities insisted that this was the only way that he would be able to go to hospital and so eventually he gave in and agreed to be transported in the bus.
- However, authorities then said they had to chain his hands and his feet throughout the transfer, despite Al-Khawaja having a doctor’s order to not be chained due to his spinal issues.. In response to this, Al-Khawaja started protesting and chanting “down with the Interior Minister”. Explaining why he was chanting this, Al-Khawaja told his daughter:
- “Because the Interior Minister is also responsible for the prisons I hold him accountable for the way I was arrested, for the torture that I was subjected to, for the health issues I have now. When they do all of these things and mistreat us, whenever we say anything as prisoners of conscience, they reply that ‘We have our orders from up top and there is nothing we can do about it’. What I understand from that, is that the orders they are getting are partly, or all of them, from the Minister of Interior and he is responsible for the situation that we are in.”
Expected Case #4: Prisoners’ Calls for the Respect of Sheikh AlMiqdad’s Rights
- Information about the fourth case reached Al-Khawaja unofficially. Indications point towards the case being about prison guards attempting to assault Sheikh Abduljalil AlMiqdad on 26 September 2022.
- The prisoners in AlMiqdad’s cell, including Al-Khawaja, protested the assault on AlMiqdad, and Al-Khawaja led the slogans, chanting “death before humiliation”, “no to terrorising prisoners” and “the head of prison is the head of terrorism [in prison]”.
- The prisoners in AlMiqdad’s cell, including Al-Khawaja, also launched a hunger strike to call for AlMiqdad’s rights to be fulfilled. AlMiqdad is facing charges himself, and Al-Khawaja also expects to face charges due to his leading role in the protest.
Maryam Al-Khawaja, daughter of Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja, commented: “After nearly twelve years of imprisonment due to being a human rights defender, my father is yet again facing multiple charges for the exact same reasons; that he insists on speaking up in the face of injustice. Right after Bahrain’s sham elections and at a time when internationally there have been calls for my father’s immediate release, including due to health issues resulting from the horrific torture he was subjected to, the Bahrain regime responds by doubling down on and worsening their reprisals rather than heeding the calls for his release. This is in part due to lack of adequate response and accountability towards Bahrain from their Western allies, and could not have come without a directive from the highest echelons of the ruling family”.
Joey Shea, Middle East and North Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, commented: “It is outrageous that Bahraini authorities have levelled new charges against Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja after he has already been sentenced to life in prison on demonstrably unfair charges. Bahraini authorities are using this slew of new charges against Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja to punish and silence him for speaking out against his unjust imprisonment. They should be dropped immediately.”
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), commented: “Imposing criminal charges on Bahrain’s most prominent imprisoned human rights defender, simply for labelling Bahrain an Israeli agent from behind prison walls, sets a dangerous precedent. The Bahraini regime is using this case in a sinister attempt to spread fear amongst prisoners and the wider population who dare to criticise normalisation with Israel or speak against prison abuses. Bahrain’s allies in the US and UK must publicly condemn this judicial harassment, call for the charges to be dropped and for Al-Khawaja’s immediate and unconditional release.”
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. 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 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 violations (see Annex).