Bahraini rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja jailed
(BCHR/IFEX) - 17 December 2012 - The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) express grave concern over the ongoing judicial harassment against human rights activist Zainab Al-Khawaja.
On 9 December 2012, Al-Khawaja was arrested after staging a one-person protest outside the intensive care unit at Salmaniya hospital, demanding visitation rights for an injured citizen. The security forces prevented his family from visiting him at the hospital. Al-Khawaja was held overnight and taken to the public prosecution office the next day. She was accused of "inciting hatred against the regime, through chanting political slogans" and was given a seven-day detention order.
Al-Khawaja reportedly chanted, "We are all the hero Aqeel" [the name of the injured citizen]. The family members of the injured man were allowed to visit him briefly after the protest.
On 13 December, before the end of her detention period, she was taken to the public prosecution where her detention period was extended for another 10 days, until 27 December. Her lawyer said that his request for Al-Khawaja to be released on bail was rejected. He described her arrest as unfounded and having no justification whatsoever.
In a separate case, on 10 December, the lower criminal court sentenced Al-Khawaja to one month in prison on charges of participating in an illegal demonstration and entering a restricted zone (Pearl Roundabout) on 12 February. The verdict was suspended pending appeal and payment of 100 Bahraini Dinars (approx. USD$265) in bail.
Although the Pearl Roundabout area is guarded by security forces and members of the Bahraini army since 16 March 2011, there is no official declaration, neither issued nor published, that declares the area a "restricted zone."
The human rights defender has been arrested several times during this year and there are more than 13 simultaneous cases against her. She has spent around four months collectively in prison, and she has also been sentenced to another four months which are suspended pending appeal while she continues to face new charges. This month alone, in addition to the above-mentioned case about entering the area of Pearl Roundabout, Al-Khawaja stood trial on the cases outlined below, which could result in more prison sentences:
1. Insulting a public official while she was in detention before the Lower Criminal Court: Pleading on 12 December 2012, postponed to 6 Jan 2013.
2. Insulting a public official (Bahrain Defence Hospital): Acquitted, however, the office of the Public Prosecution appealed against the acquittal. The case is solely based on witnesses of the prosecution who never showed up for the trial sessions although requested by the court. The next hearing will be held on 26 December 2012.
3. Illegal gathering in AbuSaiba roundabout and inciting hatred against the regime: Verdict expected on 26 December 2012.
4. Disturbing traffic while protesting on the street (Bahrain Financial Harbour): Court postponed the case to 27 December 2012 to study the case.
5. Illegal gathering and rioting (Al Aali Roundabout): she was sentenced to three months' imprisonment, but bail was set at 300 Bahraini Dinars in order to suspend the sentence. Her pleading was on 11 December 2012, but it was postponed to 5 February 2013 to summon the prosecution witnesses.
The GCHR and BCHR believes that charges against Al-Khawaja are politically motivated, and that she is targeted merely for practicing her human rights work and the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression and assembly.