Mr. Josep Borrell Fontelles
High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
Vice-President of the European Commission
Rdpt Robert Schuman 9
7 April 2022
Request to raise the case of human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja to Bahraini authorities on the 12th anniversary of his detention
Dear High Representative,
The undersigned organisations write on the occasion of the 12th anniversary of the arbitrary detention in Jau prison of prominent Danish-Bahraini human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja.
Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja is an internationally respected human rights defender who won the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2022, elected by a jury of ten of the world’s leading human rights NGOs. He has a long history of working to promote human rights in the MENA region and championing the protection of human rights defenders at risk, including working as the MENA Protection Coordinator for Front Line Defenders, serving as President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) and Founding Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR).
Mr Al-Khawaja was arrested on 9 April 2011, and was detained, tortured and subjected to an unfair trial on fabricated charges, that led to him being sentenced to life in prison because of his human rights work. That sentence was deemed arbitrary by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention as far back as 2012.
Throughout his detention, Mr Al-Khawaja has endured various forms of reprisals, including physical and mental torture. On 28 November 2022, the Second Lower Criminal Court in Bahrain upheld two additional, separate criminal charges levelled against Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja. On 28 February 2023, the human rights defender experienced intense elevated and rapid heartbeats, in addition to laboured breathing, and was transferred to an emergency room for several hours. He was actively prevented from seeing a cardiologist by the Bahraini authorities, contrary to the advice of the prison doctor.
In December 2022, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for the release of Mr Al-Khawaja. This resolution also called on you as the High Representative and Vice President of the EU to publicly and privately raise Mr Al-Khawaja’s case and to demand his unconditional release.
While the above updates on the human rights defender’s situation have been shared with your services as well as the Danish government, it remains unclear how Mr Al-Khawaja’s case is being taken up at the political level. As Mr Al-Khawaja’s medical condition deteriorates, it is crucial that all diplomatic channels are mobilized to ensure his immediate and unconditional release. We therefore urge you to press for his release, both directly to the Bahraini authorities and in international fora, both privately and publicly.
- Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
- Danish PEN
- DIGNITY - Danish Institute Against Torture
- #FreeAlKhawaja campaign
- Front Line Defenders
- Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
- Human Rights Watch
- International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
- Martin Ennals Foundation