5 December 2014: Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, is dismayed over the politically motivated sentences handed down this week to Bahraini human rights activists Maryam al-Khawaja and Zainab al-Khawaja. CIVICUS urges the government of Bahrain to end its relentless campaign to silence dissent in the country and release all human rights defenders imprisoned for exercising their legitimate democratic rights.
On 4 December, Zainab al-Khawaja was sentenced to three years in prison and a fine of 3,000 Bahraini Dinar (approx. 8,000 USD) on charges of “publically insulting the King” for ripping a picture of King Hamad of Bahrain. Zainab was nearly 9 months pregnant when she was arrested and imprisoned earlier this year while appearing before the High Criminal Court of Appeal in the capital, Manama.
Zainab, who is the sister of Maryam al-Khawaja and the daughter of imprisoned civil society activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, has repeatedly been subjected to judicial persecution for her human rights advocacy. Zanaib was released in February 2014 after spending nearly a year in prison on a number of politically motivated charges related to her peaceful advocacy work on human and democratic rights in Bahrain.
Zainab’s conviction on 4 December was preceded by the sentencing on 1 December of Maryam al-Khawaja. She was sentenced to one year in prison in absentia on specious charges of “assaulting police officers”. Maryam, who is the head of advocacy for the Gulf Center for Human Rights, was initially arrested at Manama airport on August 30th while attempting to visit her father who has been imprisoned in Bahrain since 2011.
Maryam, who spent nearly three weeks in prison following her arrest, decided to boycott her trial due to what she described as the severe politicization of the Bahraini judiciary and human rights violations she experienced during her interrogation following her arrest.
The sentencing of Maryam al-Khawaja and Zainab al-Khawaja is emblematic of the Bahraini authorities’ unabated judicial persecution of dissenters. According to national watchdog groups, tens of thousands of protestors, journalists, and civil society activists have been arrested since mass protests began in 2011. Thousands of these activists reportedly remain in prison today.
CIVICUS has repeatedly appealed to the Bahraini authorities to respect civil society freedoms of expression, association and assembly. CIVICUS reiterates its call to the government of Bahrain to end its persecution of peaceful dissenters by immediately releasing all human right defenders in the country.