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Human rights defender Maryam Al-Khawaja arrested upon arrival in Bahrain

Facebook/Maryam Al-Khawaja

UPDATE 6 September 2014: A Bahraini court refused to grant Maryam Al-Khawaja bail and instead ordered that she be detained for an additional 10 days, said Nabeel Rajab on Twitter.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) express grave concern over the arrest and detention of courageous human rights defender Maryam Al-Khawaja upon her arrival to Bahrain, on fabricated charges.

Maryam Al-Khawaja, co-director of GCHR and a Danish-Bahraini citizen, traveled to Bahrain on 29 August 2014 in an attempt to visit her father, leading human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who is currently on a hunger strike in the infamous Jaw prison; his life is in grave danger.

Upon Maryam Al-Khawaja's arrival in Bahrain, at around 1AM local time in Manama, the authorities apprehended her just outside of the airplane. She was disconnected from communications with her family and lawyer for about 13 hours and no official provided them with any information about her well-being. She finally called her mother to inform her that she was being transferred to the public prosecution.

She was interrogated on charges of "assault and battery against on-duty public employees during their performance of official duty."

The public prosecution alleges that she attacked a lieutenant and another policewoman and injured them when they asked her to hand over her mobile phone. Her lawyer said that the public prosecution denied Al-Khawaja the right to meet with her lawyer before the interrogation and that the lawyer himself was also denied the right to talk to her about her legal rights during interrogation. He has filed a legal complaint to the public prosecution.

The public prosecution's statement confirmed that Al-Khawaja was under arrest from the time of arrival and has called her “a female suspect” but didn't mention the charges related to the initial arrest. It ordered her detention for seven days pending investigation on the above-mentioned charge.

She was subsequently moved to the Isa Town women's prison and placed with two convicted criminals. Her family has not been able to visit her yet, as the authorities are complicating the visiting procedures for her. She was able to call them however.

The officials who held Al-Khawaja at the airport claimed that she is not a citizen of Bahrain, and that she is thus not allowed into the country. She has never been presented with any documents to this effect, and the authorities refused to provide her with any supporting evidence that she is no longer a Bahraini citizen. She has traveled using her Danish passport and she is holding a valid Bahraini issued smart card. It is unclear whether the charges brought against her treat her as a Bahraini citizen, or a Danish one.

Upon her arrival, Al-Khawaja stated that she would not voluntarily leave Bahrain, and that she would begin a hunger strike in protest, with her only demand being that she be allowed into the country. She refrained from any food, juice, or supplements, but reportedly ended her hunger strike on 31 August out of concern for her father, whose health is very fragile.

There is an extremely high degree of urgency in this case and serious concern over Maryam's safety and well-being in detention, particularly considering the history of abuse to which the family has been subjected.

Her father, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, had 36 screws and 18 metal plates put in his face because of the torture and physical violence to which he was subjected following his arrest in 2011 for taking part in peaceful demonstrations calling for reform. Her uncle is also in prison in Bahrain and her sister Zainab has been subjected to repeated arrests, long-term detention, harassment, and physical abuse, including facing ongoing charges in relation to calling for her father's freedom.

It should be noted that Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja has been on hunger strike for freedom for the past week, since 24 August. The last news of him as of 30 August is that his blood sugar dropped to two and his blood pressure reached 90/55. He took water with glucose and his blood sugar levels increased to 3.1.

GCHR and the BCHR are calling for urgent action to demand the immediate release of both Maryam Al-Khawaja and her imprisoned father Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, and to drop all charges against them. They call on the international community, including diplomatic representatives in Bahrain, to press the authorities to free them and to ensure they are not abused.

What other IFEX members are saying
  • Bahrain: Human rights defender jailed without access to lawyer

    Index on Censorship calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Maryam Alkhawaja.

  • Bahrain widens repression by detaining Maryam al-Khawaja

    "Bahrain’s arrest of Maryam al-Khawaja and the continued repression of the country’s Shi'a majority show the government’s intolerance of peaceful political protests and efforts to bring about greater political openness,” said Robert Herman, vice president of regional programs at Freedom House.

  • Dispatches: Time to stand up for Bahrain’s dissidents

    Maryam only took the decision to fly to Bahrain this week upon hearing that her father, who began a hunger strike on August 24, was in danger of slipping into a coma. Abdulhadi al-Khawaja is a high-profile dissident who is serving a life sentence after a grossly unfair conviction.

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