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Bahraini rights activist Zainab Al-Khawaja arrested for tearing monarch's photo

Bahraini human rights activist Zainab al-Khawaja holds her daughter Jude  at a coffee shop in Abu Saiba, Bahrain
Bahraini human rights activist Zainab al-Khawaja holds her daughter Jude at a coffee shop in Abu Saiba, Bahrain

(AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)

This article was first published on on 13 October 2014 and updated on 14 October:


Zainab Al-Khawaja was arrested on 14 October 2014 during a court hearing where she was scheduled to face charges related to tearing a photograph of the King of Bahrain.

According to witnesses present at the trial, Zainab asked to speak, and stated to the court that "I am the daughter of a proud and free man. My mother brought me into this world free, and I will give birth to a free baby boy even if it is inside our prisons. It is my right, and my responsibility as a free person, to protest against oppression and oppressors."

Zainab then tore a photograph of the King again, and placed it in front of the judge. The court was immediately dismissed, and everyone was made to leave the court room while Zainab was placed under arrest.

She was taken to Alhoora police station, and was allowed to telephone her family. She is currently almost nine months pregnant, and could give birth at any time.

The charges against Zainab Al-Khawaja are entirely related to freedom of expression, and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and Gulf Center for Human Rights reiterate their calls for the immediate dismissal of these cases and all other politically motivated charges against her.

Bahrain: Zainab Al-Khawaja Continues to Face Judicial Harassment (13 October 2014)

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) express their strong concern for the continued judicial harassment against peaceful activist and human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja, who is facing two court appointments tomorrow, 14 October, and one additional court date on 15 October. There are currently five cases against her in court; another eight cases have already been carried out either by Zainab having paid a fine, or serving time in prison.

This week, Zainab, who is almost nine months pregnant, will attend court appointments related to three separate cases against her. Tomorrow, on 14 October, she will appear in court to face charges in two cases related to tearing a photo of the King. On Wednesday, 15 October, she will face charges for “insulting a public official.” She will attend the trial, but it should be noted that no sentence will be delivered during the court appointments this week.

In a continuation of this kind of judicial harassment, three additional charges were recently brought against her based on an attempt to visit her father at Jaw Prison in August. The charges are related to 'entering a restricted area', 'not cooperating with police orders' and 'verbal assault'. Zainab reported she attempted to visit her imprisoned father, human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, on 28 August 2014. At the time, he was on hunger strike, and his family was informed that he had collapsed on the floor in his prison cell. Zainab was attempting to see him in order to obtain an update on his health since medical professionals had also expressed concerns that he could suffer a heart attack at any moment.

Zainab was seven months pregnant at the time. She reported that she entered through the main gate of the prison and walked to the building used for hosting visits, and saw no signs that indicated she was entering a restricted area; she was not stopped by the guards securing the perimeter of the prison grounds.

Despite this, Zainab Al-Khawaja is being charged with having entered a restricted area. After reaching the visitor's entrance, she was stopped by guards asking her reason for being there. She explained that she wanted to visit her father and make sure he was alive and well. She was informed by the guards that she had no right to do so, and the guards began filming her. They were joined by the Head of Prison, who was accompanied by a female police officer. Orders were reportedly made to forcibly remove and arrest Zainab, and she immediately informed them that she was seven months pregnant. There was a verbal exchange between the Head of Prison and Zainab, in which she was reportedly informed that the law was on the side of the officers, and that he took no responsibility for what may happen to her, or her unborn child.

Zainab was forcibly laid down on the ground, placed in hand cuffs and then transferred to Riffa police station where she was informed of the three new charges against her. She was later released the same day.

Based on the above information, BCHR and GCHR call on the United Kingdom, the United States, the European Union, the United Nations, and all other allies of Bahrain to pressure the authorities to:

  • Drop all of the charges against Zainab Al-Khawaja and end the campaign of judicial harassment against her for her peaceful activism and for exercising her right to freedom of expression;
  • End the practice of targeting human rights defenders and activists for their work, and release the political prisoners in Bahrain.
What other IFEX members are saying
  • Bahrain: Free Activist Charged with Insulting King

    “Zainab al-Khawaja has exposed the thin skin of Bahraini authorities, armed again only with a photograph,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “It says much about the state of the justice system in Bahrain that you’re more likely to end up in jail for ripping up a photo than you are for shooting an unarmed protester.”

  • Bahrain: Zainab Al-Khawaja arrested after her trial

    "The Bahraini authorities insist on persecuting the Al-Khawaja family by all means, whether legal or illegal, and the Al-Khawajas are paying the price for their courage and their willingness to achieve total freedom with dignity."

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