As Bahrain hosts the Formula 1 race beginning on 1 April, ongoing violations of human rights continue, including the imprisonment of human rights defenders for exercising their right to freedom of expression. Among those in jail is human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja, who was arrested on 14 March 2016 by security forces after being convicted on a number of charges including for simply tearing up a picture of the monarch, considered a crime in Bahrain, and for insulting a public official. Please join the Thunderclap campaign calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Zainab Al-Khawaja and her infant son, Abdulhadi, whose health has been put at risk by the conditions of their imprisonment.
Bahraini courts have sentenced Zainab to a total of three years and one month in prison, as well as a fine of BHD 3,000 (almost USD$8,000), on several charges related to her peaceful dissent and free expression. In December 2014, a court sentenced Zainab to prison on charges related to allegedly insulting a police officer during a peaceful protest and insulting the king by tearing up a photograph. In October 2015, Bahrain’s appeals court confirmed her conviction for insulting the king but reduced her sentence from three years to one year in prison, following a previous Thunderclap wishing her #HappyBirthdayZainab.
Among other charges, in February 2016, the appeals court upheld a nine-month prison sentence against Zainab for trying to visit her father in Jaw Prison when he was on a hunger strike in August 2014 in protest of poor prison conditions.
Family legacy of human rights activism
Zainab’s father, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, is one of Bahrain’s most prominent government critics and human rights defenders. He co-founded both the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, and he spent 12 years in exile before returning to advocate for human rights in his homeland.
The date of 9 April marks the anniversary five years ago when Abdulhadi was violently arrested from his home for his role in peaceful democracy protests that began in February 2011, for which he was tortured and sentenced to life in prison.
Appeal for support from Zainab
In a letter from prison shortly after her arrest, Ms. Al-Khawaja wrote: “As I walked up to the prison door carrying my baby, I realized that I had walked through that door on crutches, I had walked through that door pregnant, and I had been carried through that door by police. Five years have passed since the start of the revolution in Bahrain; five years of systematic aggression on the people of this country whose only wish was to seek equal rights and democracy.”
She continued, “It’s hard to look pain in the eyes and acknowledge it, but that’s exactly what I ask everyone to do. Yes there are governments willing to turn a blind eye to our suffering and shake hands with those who oppress us, but I also believe that there are enough good people in the world who recognize the good fight, who admire a people who sacrifice in the hope for a better future, and who can’t stand by silently in the face of oppression.”
What you can do
Join the growing chorus of international voices in calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Zainab Al-Khawaja and her infant son, as well as her father. In support of the international right to freedom of expression, please call on the government of Bahrain to #FreeZainabAndBaby by joining our Thunderclap(https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/39782-freezainabandbaby) and also tweeting a message of support to@AngryArabiya with hashtag #FreeZainabAndBaby, starting on 1 April, as the Formula 1 race gears up in Bahrain and a week before the anniversary of her father’s arrest.
The Groups behind this campaign
This campaign is endorsed by:
- Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
- Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)
- Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
For more information
View and share the teaser for the documentary film “We are the Giant” featuring Zainab and Maryam Al-Khawaja at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1-5zbBqU8E