Bahrain’s High Criminal Second Court of Appeal upholds sentence against leading rights defender Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja after his defence withdraws
- 5 January 2022 – Today, the legal defence of Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja withdrew from trial proceedings after being instructed by Al-Khawaja to do so should Bahraini authorities fail to bring him to trial proceedings or deny his right to meet with his lawyer prior to the hearing. His defence handed a letter from him to the judge and then withdrew from the courtroom.
- Today, the High Criminal Second Court of Appeal upheld the fine against Al-Khawaja where he was accused of breaking a plastic chair in protest of denying him his right to call his two daughters in exile and he was sentenced on 28 November 2022 to pay 60 Bahraini Dinars (equivalent to £133 UK Pounds or $160 US dollars). Since last week, this is the second case in which Al-Khawaja’s conviction was upheld by an appeal court after it refused him his right to appeal the initial judgement, according to his lawyers and family members.
- The court concluded today: “The court decided to accept the appeal in its general form but rejected its subject matter and upheld the appealed ruling.”
- In his letter to the judge today, Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja stated: “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 defence case, which is also my last opportunity to do so. As a result, I have instructed my defence 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.”
- Prior to today’s hearing, his daughter Maryam Al-Khawaja sent a letter from her father to the Justice Minister that detailed his reason for withdrawing from the trial, exposing rights abuses and denial of due process, defending his positions, shedding lights on violations in Bahrain’s prisons whilst also criticising the UK government for backing the regime.
- Al-Khawaja defended his action, stating: “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.”
- The trial began today at 2PM Bahrain time in Bahrain’s High Criminal Second Court of Appeal, and comes after Al-Khawaja has been subjected to a series of new criminal charges as a form of judicial harassment in reprisal for his activism within the prison and to deny him any form of access to early release.
- This continued judicial harassment follows the European Parliament’s 15 December 2022 overwhelming adoption of an urgent resolution highlighting his case and those of other political prisoners, and calling for his release.
- Al-Khawaja’s letter argued that the 19 cases the Government of Bahrain brought against him since 2004 are all related to his human rights activities, and have intensified since his receipt of the Martin Ennals Human Rights Award in 2022. Al-Khawaja ended his letter, stating:
“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.”
Other cases and pending charges.
- On 29 December 2022, Bahrain’s high court of appeal rejected his appeal on a separate charge which is related to insulting a civil servant.
- Al-Khawaja is also 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.
Maryam Al-Khawaja, prominent human rights defender and daughter of Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja commented: “I am not shocked by the court’s decision since the court is doing exactly what it is intended to do: violate rights and punish human rights defenders like my father.
My father’s letter says everything that needs to be said, not only about his cases, but also about the system of reprisals against human rights activists and the involvement of the British government.”
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, commented: “Despite over a decade of unlawful imprisonment that followed horrific torture, Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja continues to inspire and is determined to defend his rights and others. Today’s judgement illustrates the corruption that lies at the core of Bahrain’s judiciary and its complete disregard for international standards.
Al-Khawaja’s exposure of the UK government’s role must compel it to end its complicity in the human rights abuses in Bahrain.”
- In 2012, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a decision which deemed his continued detention to be arbitrary and in contravention of international law.