A recent decision by Bahrain’s Second Criminal Court to uphold two separate criminal charges against leading human rights defender Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja demonstrates the Bahraini authorities have no intention of relenting in their attacks against human rights defenders, global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, said today. On 28 November 2022, the court convicted Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja of insulting a public servant in reference to a police officer in Jau Prison. He was fined 100 Bahraini Dinar (approximately US $ 266). The case against him initially included a charge of “insulting a foreign head of state” which could lead to up to two years in prison and an additional fine if convicted. Lawyers have not been able to determine if this charge is pending or has been dropped as they do not have complete access to legal files and case documents.
In the second case, heard by the same court, Mr. Al-Khawaja was convicted and fined 60 Bahraini Dinar (approximately US $ 160) for breaking a plastic chair. This happened when Al-Khawaja was again denied his right to call his daughters in exile where he broke a plastic chair in protest, injuring his own hand. Al-Khawaja was not present during these recent trials in person. He was also not able to grant power of attorney to his lawyer whom he had instructed to represent him, despite a court order to the Ministry of Interior to do so. As a result, Al-Khawaja had no legal representation at either trial in a flagrant violation of his rights and the court proceeded with the convictions without dealing with the issue of the power of attorney first.
“By these new cases, the regime is punishing my father for demanding the most basic rights. Apparently, it was not enough torturing and imprisoning him for the past 11 years, the regime wants to put an end to the very limited ways he has for protesting the conditions he is in. My father tells me that ‘the people responsible for committing human rights abuses are at the heart of the system’. He gave me a list of known torturers’ names who not only never been held accountable but instead promoted,” says his daughter Zainab Al-Khawaja.
Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja started advocating for human rights when he was sixteen years old. He is the co-founder of both the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR). Until early 2011, he worked as MENA Protection Coordinator for human rights group Frontline Defenders. He was also part of a fact-finding mission to Iraq in 2003 with Amnesty International and he is a member of the International Advisory Network for the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre.
He was arrested on 9 April 2011 for his role in organizing peaceful protests defending the rights of Bahrainis and calling for political reform during the popular ‘Arab Spring’ movements which began in Bahrain in February 2011. He was violently detained by security forces as detailed in a report by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) published in November 2011 at the request of the King of Bahrain. He is serving a life prison sentence in Jau prison following unfair trials in courts that did not comply with Bahraini criminal law or international fair trial standards.
During his early detention, al-Khawaja suffered multiple fractures to his jaw and has undergone multiple surgeries but still suffers from chronic pain and requires additional intervention as he has not healed properly. His facial bone structure is permanently damaged. In January 2021, over 100 NGOs appealed to the Danish government to help free al-Khawaja so he could travel to Denmark for treatment.