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Bahraini sisters and rights defenders sentenced to prison in separate trials

Zainab and Maryam Al-Khawaja
Zainab and Maryam Al-Khawaja

Facebook/Maryam Al Khawaja

This statement was first published on on 10 December 2014.

On 1 December, Maryam Al-Khawaja was sentenced in absentia to one year in prison in Bahrain on charges related to an alleged assault on a police officer in Bahrain's airport. Ms. Al-Khawaja had travelled to Bahrain in an attempt to visit her father, imprisoned human rights defender and founder of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who went on hunger strike in August of 2014. Following a dramatic and rapid decline in his condition, Ms. Al-Khawaja travelled to Bahrain to visit him, only to be detained on arrival in the airport on 30 August.

Maryam Al-Khawaja was held in prison for 19 days on charges of allegedly having 'assaulting a police officer'. She was released while the investigation was ongoing, and no travel ban was imposed on her. Ms. Al-Khawaja chose to boycott the trial because she does not believe in the independence of Bahrain's judiciary. BCHR believes that Maryam Al-Khawaja was wrongfully arrested and targeted due to her work in exposing human rights violations in Bahrain.

Zainab Al-Khawaja, who is also Adbulhadi Al-Khawaja's daughter and an older sister to Maryam Al-Khawaja was sentenced to prison on two recent occasions; 4 December and 9 December. On 4 December, Ms. Al-Khawaja was sentenced to three years' imprisonment for 'insulting the King' as well as issued a fine of 3,000 Bahraini dinars (approx. $8,000 USD). These charges were related to Ms. Al-Khawaja exercising her right to peaceful freedom of expression when she tore up a photo of the King. The court set bail for 100 dinars (approx. $265 USD) for putting the sentence on hold until the appeal trial outcome, which she paid. Ms. Al-Khawaja has appealed the case, and the sentence will therefore only be implemented if the court rules against her at this time. Ms. Al-Khawaja was not present at the trial.

Two of the charges against Ms. Al-Khawaja on 9 December were related to 'destroying government property' while she was detained in 2012, where she also ripped up a picture of Bahrain's king. Lastly, she was charged with 'insulting a police officer'. These charges, and more than a dozen other charges against Ms. Al-Khawaja represent a pattern of the Bahraini government's attack on freedom of expression. This pattern of targeting human rights activists is also a part of a wider crackdown against journalists, bloggers, photographers and activists to exercise their freedom of expression in Bahrain. Ms. Al-Khawaja was sentenced to one year and four months in prison, issued by the court of appeal, which upheld the sentence. This verdict will be implemented immediately, and she can be arrested at any moment.

Zainab Al-Khawaja gave birth to a healthy baby boy, her second child, on 27 November.

BCHR calls on the government of Bahrain to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally overturn all convictions of Zainab Al-Khawaja related to freedom of expression;
  • Immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against Zainab Al-Khawaja related to freedom of expression;
  • Immediately and unconditionally overturn the conviction of Maryam Al-Khawaja; and
  • Release all political prisoners and end the systematic targeting of individuals for exercising their right to peaceful freedom of expression.

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