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Human rights activist Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, banned from leaving country, faces up to ten-years' imprisonment for delivering speech

(BCHR/IFEX) - The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights is very concerned after learning of a travel ban against its former president, Mr. Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, and the unjustifiable charges and unfair trial against him for delivering a speech highlighting human rights issues and expressing his opinion on the political situation in Bahrain.

On 9 February 2009, at 9:00 a.m. (local time), Alkhawaja was prevented from leaving Bahrain Airport. According to him, the officer at the passport point told him that there is an official order from the General Prosecution Office to prevent him from leaving the country. As the Middle-East Coordinator for Front Line (the International Foundation to Protect Human Rights Defenders), Alkhawaja was leaving for a field visit to Iraq.

On 8 February, the first trial session against Alkhawaja took place at the High Criminal Court. He faces charges related specifically to a speech he delivered on 7 January. The charges were: 1. instigating hatred and disrespect against the ruling regime; 2. broadcasting false and malicious statements; and, 3. spreading provocative propaganda related to internal affairs that could cause damage to the public interest. According to the related article of the 1976 Penal Code, Alkhawaja could be sentenced up to 10 years in prison. The Head Judge adjourned the case until 11 March.

BCHR considers the travel ban and the unfair trial against Alkhawaja an escalation in the ongoing orchestrated campaign by the authorities to hinder the work of human rights defenders in Bahrain and to further restrict the right to freedom of opinion. Hence, BCHR calls upon all concerned to do whatever possible to:

1. Remove the travel ban and drop all charges against Alkhawaja
2. Put an end to the targeting of human rights defenders and restrictions on freedom of opinion
3. Amend the 1976 Penal Code which allows for punishing individuals for practicing their basic rights, including the right to freedom of opinion
4. Securing the independence and impartiality of the judiciary system in Bahrain.

For further information on the Alkhawaja case, see:
http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/95965

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