Posts Tagged ‘Abdulhadi Alkhawaja’

Policy response from Human Rights NGOs to COVID-19: Gulf Center for Human Rights 

April 9, 2020

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, many human rights organisations have been formulating a policy response. While I cannot be complete or undertake comparisons, here the position of Khalid Ibrahim, executive director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) posted on 8 April 2020 in Global Voices:

COVID19 cases in the MENA region have led governments to institute containment and other measures to slow the spread the highly contagious coronavirus. These measures have especially targeted some of the most vulnerable groups such as human rights defenders in prison, migrant workers and independent media. The Gulf Center for Human Rights have tracked how some of these measures have seriously impacted the overall human rights situation in the region.

Below is GHCR’s brief human rights review of COVID-19’s impact on the MENA region:

1. Detained human rights defenders

The reality is that most human rights defenders are still in prison in the MENA region at a time when governments including those of Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt released some prisoners as part of preventive measures to contain the spread of the virus. With the spread of COVID-19, the lives of jailed human rights defenders are at imminent risk in countries such as Iran, Egypt, Kuwait, Syria, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria and other countries that have crowded prisons lacking minimum health standards. Among those currently imprisoned are Abdulhadi Alkhawaja and Nabeel Rajab, founding directors of the GCHR, serving a life sentence and five years in jail, respectively. In the United Arab Emirates, Ahmed Mansoor has been held in solitary confinement for three years, serving a 10-year jail sentence for his human rights activism, including peacefully expressing his views on social media. In Saudi Arabia, women’s rights activist Lugain al-Hathloul also remains in prison.

2. Access to information and shutting down newspapers

Most governments in the MENA region are not releasing the actual numbers of cases of those infected with the virus and also making it very difficult for journalists to have access to reliable information about the spread, treatment, and the victims of COVID-19. Also, journalists who are providing factual information about the crisis to citizens are at risk.

….In Oman, on March 22, 2020, the Supreme Committee for Dealing with COVID-19 ordered all newspapers, magazines, and other publications to cease printing and circulating, according to the Times of Oman, which published the committee’s order. The order also prohibited the sale and circulation of newspapers, magazines and publications imported into the country. In Morocco, that same day, the minister of culture, youth and sports, Hassan Abyaba, announced in a statement the suspension of the publication and distribution of print newspapers until further notice. Also, in Jordan, on March 17, 2020, the Jordanian Council of Ministers suspended the publication of all newspapers for two weeks, according to an official statement by the Jordanian Communications Minister Amjad Adaileh. Newspapers continued to be suspended due to the quarantine and the government’s demand for citizens to stay in their homes.

3. Draft law threatened freedom of expression in Tunisia

4. Temporary imprisonment for spreading rumours in UAE

On April 1, 2020, the Gulf News, a daily English-language newspaper based in Dubai, published an article that says that “people who circulate rumours may be jailed for one year if they spread false information.” It is now possible that COVID-19 could be used as a pretext to imprison some of the bloggers and Internet activists who are targeted by the State Security Apparatus (SSA).

5. Location-tracking applications

Some Gulf states such as Bahrain are using location-tracking technologies which would enable the full detection of the movement of citizens. There are concerns that the use of these applications in countries widely known for gross and documented violations of human rights will allow them to place greater restrictions on personal freedoms.

6. Xenophobia against migrant workers in the Gulf

…..Reports that GCHR received from various Gulf countries confirmed that migrant workers are not given equal access to medical care and they are facing some difficult time at the moment, as many of them already live and work in poor conditions. Authorities across MENA could help stop the spread of COVID-19 by freeing all human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience because they do not pose a risk to the public — but rather are at great risk themselves. While detained, authorities must uphold the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners to provide basic healthcare and sanitation for all. It is also important to allow visits from UN experts and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Today Rafto announces that its Award goes to the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights

September 26, 2013

The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, whose founder and director are both jailed, wins Norway’s Rafto Prize for rights defenders. The award hopes to “turn the spotlight on systematic violations of human rights in a region where abuse is too often met with silence from Western governments,” the Rafto Foundation said in a statement on 26 September.  The founder of the centre, Abdul Hadi al-Khawaja, is serving a life sentence in jail after he and several other leading opposition figures were convicted of plotting to overthrow the monarchy. They were arrested in April 2011, in the wake of the Sunni-monarchy’s crackdown on a month of Shiite-led protests that demanded political reforms. Meanwhile the centre’s director, Nabeel Rajab, has been in jail for more than 14 months, serving a three-year jail term for taking part in unauthorised protests. The prize jury commended the rights group for its non-violent protests and documentation of human rights violations, despite government attempts to shut it down. The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights was, inter alia, also one the Final Nominees for the MEA of 2012 and received the Baldwin Medal

The annual Rafto award was founded in 1986 in memory of Norwegian economic history professor Thorolf Rafto, a longtime human rights activist. The 15,000 Euro prize will be presented on November 3 in Bergen.

via Bahrain rights group wins Norwegian award | GlobalPost.


Bahrain HRD Maryam al-Khawaja banned by British Airways from flight

August 10, 2013

Maryam al-Khawaja

Maryam al-Khawaja  (c) IBT
The International Business Times of 9 August reports that Maryam al-Khawaja, acting president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) has been prevented from boarding a British Airways flight from Copenhagen to Bahrain because of a ban issued by the government Bahrain. Why did the UK airline agreed to the ban without giving any motive for the blocking order or any advance notice?. “I had the flight this morning from Copenhagen and everything was fine. I did the online check-in yesterday,” she told IBTimes UK. “I was blocked at the boarding and told to check with the counter because there was a problem. The lady called the office in London who told her that there was a denied boarding message as a decision from Bahrain government”. Al-Khawaja holds dual Bahraini-Danish citizenship but has not renewed her Bahraini passport .  Her father Abdulhadi and sister Zainab are in jail for their role in pro-democracy protests.


Bahrain’s Persecution of Human Rights Defenders Continues

March 4, 2013

Several NGOs continue to follow closely the development in Bahrain, sadly the subject of may posts in this blog. Here HRF’s and Frontline’s recent statements:

Human Rights First (HRF) says that this week will see a series of high profile court hearings in Bahrain, exposing the authorities continued use of judicial harassment against human rights defenders and activists. On Sunday March 3, Halima Abdulaziz al Sabag is due to hear an appeal verdict. She is a dental assistant and was sentenced to a year in prison after she was convicted for allegedly taking first aid material from the hospital where she worked to treat injured protesters. On Monday March 4, the Bahrain government will continue to press a case against leading human rights defender Said Yousif Al Muhafda of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights for information he tweeted about police using birdshot against protesters. On Tuesday March 5, the appeal of 23 medics is due to return to court. They have all been convicted and sentenced to three months in prison after treating injured protesters in 2011. “This continuing crackdown in the courts tells us more about the reality of what’s happening in Bahrain than the speeches its officials are giving to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva this week,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley…….. Other prominent human rights leaders, including President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights Nabeel Rajab, remain in jail. Please contact Brenda Bowser Soder at or 202-370-3323. HRF logo

via Bahrain’s Targeting of Civil Society with Judicial Harassment Continues | Human Rights First.

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Ceremony of the Martin Ennals Award to follow on the internet (2 October, 18h00)

September 27, 2012

Every day all over the world, unsung heroes are risking their lives to call attention to injustice and to fight for human rights. On Tuesday October 2nd, one of them will honored with the Martin Ennals Award. The Martin Ennals Award  is chosen by a Jury of ten leading Human Rights organizations including: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First and others (see Thus, this prize represents the expression of the whole Human Rights movement.

The winner will be selected from three nominees, who personalize wider issues in their home countries and allow these issues to be represented through individual cases:

  1. Venerable Sovath Luon: sometimes referred to as the “Multimedia Monk”. He challenges the widespread eviction of poor people from land they have long held but without title, often due to the destruction of records during the Khmer Rouge period.
  2. Nasrin Sotoudeh, an Iranian Lawyer serving a 6 year prison sentence in Iran for “… the offences of “acting against the national security”, “propaganda against the regime” and “membership of Human Rights Defenders Centre” – an organisation presided over by the Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi.
  3. Bahrain Center for Human Rights: Currently high on the world media agenda. Two of the main founders: Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab are serving jail sentences. Zainab al-Khawaja was arrested for demonstrating against the government, while other members are regularly arrested and abused.

The ceremony is hosted by the City of Geneva in Victoria Hall. Short films commissioned by the Martin Ennals Foundation. Those who cannot attend in person may want to follow it on the internet ( starting at 18h00 Geneva time.

NGOs call on Human Rights Council to take UPR recommendations on Bahrain seriously

September 19, 2012

A group of 10 human rights NGOs called during the 21st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council to accept the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) recommendations, to be adopted on 19 September. They urge the international community to call for the unconditional release of human rights defenders linked to the MEA 2012 nominee the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights who are currently jailed in Bahrain:

  • Nabeel Rajab, sentenced on 16 August 2012 to three years’ imprisonment in relation to three cases brought against him for calling for and participating in peaceful gatherings that the government deems “illegal”. His family has reported his ill-treatment in prison, where he is held separately from other political prisoners.
  • Zainab Al-Khawaja, arrested on 2 August 2012 after she staged a one-woman protest calling for the release of her father, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja. It was her fifth arrest since April 2012. On 4 August, she was accused of tearing a photo of the King at the police station and remains in detention, facing 13 charges in total. She requires medical attention for a broken leg suffered during a demonstration.
  • Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Abdul-Jalil Al-Singace, whose life sentences were upheld by the High Criminal Court of Appeal on 4 September 2012 in the high-profile case of 13 political and human rights leaders. Despite allegations of confessions made under torture, the men were among 21 originally sentenced by military court in June 2011 to between two years and life in prison on charges including “setting up terror groups to topple the royal regime and change the constitution.” In the same case, Blogger Ali Abdulemam was sentenced to 15 years in absentia and his whereabouts are unknown.

In November 2011, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), which was mandated by the King to investigate reports of serious human rights violations that occurred since February 2011, released its report. Among the recommendations, the BICI called for the cases of over 300 individuals jailed for peacefully expressing their views to be transferred to civil court, and for an investigation into allegations of torture in detention, which was used to extract confessions. The BICI also recorded a culture of impunity in the deaths of prisoners in custody due to torture, and called for the authorities to hold those responsible accountable. Estimates by the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), of which Nabeel Rajab is President, put the number of political prisoners at 3000 as of today, and rights groups continue to record cases of torture and mistreatment in prison.

The NGOs demand the immediately and unconditionally release Nabeel Rajab, Zainab Al-Khawaja, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, Abdul-Jalil Al-Singace and all those jailed for exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, observing due process, as recommended by the BICI;

  • Implement all 176 recommendations in Bahrain’s UPR, including to respect the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, not just 156 of them;
  • Suspend and then revoke the use of penal code articles that violate the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly;
  • Comply with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1998, and international human rights treaties and documents ratified by Bahrain, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
  • Guarantee the safety of Bahrainis who attend the UNHRC sessions, ensuring they won’t face reprisals as a result of their participation in the peaceful promotion of human rights protection.

(in red the two NGOs members of the MEA Jury)
Bahrain Press Association (BPA)
Bahrain Rehabilitation & Anti Violence Organisation (BRAVO)
Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR)
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Front Line Defenders
Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
International Media Support (IMS)
Khiam Rehabilitation Centre
No Peace Without Justice

Finally some better news from Bahrain – but still a long road ahead

May 31, 2012

On 28 May 2012 there was finally some light at the end of the tunnel. Nabeel Rajab was released on bail and Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja ended his hunger strike. Another HRD Zainab Al-Khawaja was also freed. I reported several times on these cases related to the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), the 2012 nominee of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders.

Throughout Al-Khawaja’s hunger strike he was able to draw international attention to the on-going human rights violations that are taking place in Bahrain. The hunger strike brought attention to the plight of human rights defenders and political activists who are in detention or have been subjected to human rights violations by the authorities. Despite the primary demand of his hunger strike of “freedom or death” not being met, he has achieved one of his main goals by attracting global attention and focus on the human rights situation in the country. In a statement the human rights defender thanked his family for their support and expressed his gratitude to all those who had shown solidarity with him both inside and outside Bahrain. He will now begin a special diet in order for his body to recover from the 110-day hunger strike.

That Nabeel Rajab was released on bail is of course excellent but we should not forget that he should never have been arrested (on the 5th of May) to start with.  He was charged with ‘insulting the statuary bodies” the so-called “Twitter Defamation case”, “participating in illegal assembly and calling others to join” through social networking sites. (See GCHR appeal dated 05-05- 2012 (

He was released on bail of 300 Bahraini Dinars (appr. $796). However, a travel ban remains in place and the trials will continue (a hearing on the “illegal assembly” case is scheduled for 17 June while another session for the “twitter case” is scheduled for 24 June).

Furthermore, human rights defender Zainab Alkhawaja @angryarabiya was released on 29th May 2012, after more than 1 month imprisonment. She is still facing trials in 2 cases. One of the hearing sessions on the case of “illegal assembly, assaulting a police officer and inciting hatred against the regime is scheduled on June 24th, while the case of “obstructing traffic” is scheduled for November 1st 2012.

While the BCHR welcomes the ending of Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja’s hunger strike and the release of both Nabeel Rajab on bail and Zainab Al-Khawaja, it expresses serious concern for the on-going trials of the released activists, the on-going violations of human rights by Bahraini authorities and the continued detention of human rights defenders including Abdulhadi Alkhawaja on fabricated charges.

Bahrain again: Court postpones decision – Al-Khawaja in critical condition

April 3, 2012

In my post of 1 April I wondered whether the would be justice for the Bahraini HRD on hunger strike, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja. Now we know that the Court of Cassation on Monday did not order the requested release but announced that the decision will be read on April 23. His deteriorating health condition simply cannot wait until that date. The Government remains responsible for the consequences.

Will Bahrain’s highest court do justice tomorrow for HRD Al-Khawaja?

April 1, 2012

A leading Bahraini human rights defender, Al-Khawaja’s appeal is set to be heard in Bahrain’s Court of Cassation on 2 April. He is currently serving a life sentence for his role in anti-government protests last year. The activist is at risk of death after 50 days on hunger strike (according to his lawyer, he has lost 16 kg since his hunger strike began on 8 February). Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, 52, is a former protection co-ordinator with Frontline, an NGO on the Jury of the MEA. He was arrested in April last year for being one of the leaders of anti-government protests and was sentenced to life imprisonment in a grossly unfair trial by a military court last June.  “Bahrain must ensure that Al-Khawaja is released immediately and unconditionally,” said Philip Luther of  Amnesty International, another member of the MEA Jury. He added: “The continued imprisonment of Al-Khawaja demonstrates that the Bahraini authorities are not serious about fulfilling their promises to release people imprisoned for exercising their right to free spHe has not used or advocated violence in his participation in the anti-government protests, and no such evidence was shown by the authorities during the trial.

Activists in Bahrain have repeatedly called for ’s release. Demonstrators in Manama attempted to stage a sit-in at a main highway on Monday, but were quickly dispersed by riot police.  Al-Khawaja, who is married with four daughters, is also a citizen of Denmark, where he lived in exile for decades. He returned to Bahrain after the government announced a general amnesty in 2001. Danish diplomats have visited him in prison several times and confirmed his deteriorating health.