Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain strongly denounces the new charges brought against prominent human rights defender and dual Bahraini-Danish citizen AbdulHadi AlKhawaja. AlKhawaja, who is serving a life sentence at Jau Prison for his participation in the 2011 pro-democracy demonstrations, is facing new charges related to his activism in prison.
In November 2022, AlKhawaja informed his family that authorities are bringing four new charges against him for his protests against the harsh conditions which he and other political prisoners have been subjected to in Jau prison.
On 16 November, the Second Lower Criminal Court scheduled a hearing on the first of these new charges for an incident in November 2021 when authorities denied his right to call his daughters. However, the court postponed this hearing until 28 November on the grounds that Al-Khawaja needed to perform a power of attorney, something which he was going to do in-person during the hearing. A lieutenant attempted to pressure and threatened Al-Khawaja into recording a video stating that he was refusing to attend the hearing. Nevertheless, Al-Khawaja refused and repeatedly stated on camera his desire to attend the hearing. He was then transferred back to his cell.
The second charge against him is for insulting a public servant and criticizing a foreign state (Israel) in March 2022 when Al-Khawaja led a peaceful protest inside the prison. He was chanting his opposition to the normalization of relations between Bahrain and Israel, as well as insulting a public servant, who allegedly tortured one of his cellmates. The hearing for this charge was set for 21 November. Prior to the hearing, authorities denied him the every-other-day calls with his lawyer. This hearing was also postponed and while the judge stated that AlKhawaja refused to attend, has not presented any evidence to AlKhawaja’s attorney to support this claim. AlKhawaja has informed his daughter that he wanted to attend.
The third charge, by far the most serious, is a charge of incitement to overthrow or change the regime, and relates to an incident in July 2022 when AlKhawaja was scheduled to attend a medical appointment for treatment on his back. During this appointment, authorities insisted on shackling his feet and hands during transfer and putting him in a small bus with no ventilation, creating conditions like an oven. In response, AbdulHadi started protesting and chanting “Down with the Interior Minister ” holding him accountable for his mistreatment and torture.
The fourth and final charge relates to the protest against the ill-treatment of a fellow inmate and is expected in the coming days.
In addition to these charges and violations, AlKhawaja was already suffering the unceasing legal and bodily violations of prison authorities since his arrest 12 years ago. In addition to inhumane restrictions and property confiscation, authorities have systematically used medical negligence as a form of reprisal against AlKhawaja’s activism. He has been denied proper medical treatment which has significantly contributed to the deterioration of his health. He suffers from back pain and vision impairment which were exacerbated by the extreme torture he endured during interrogations by security officers, as well as magnesium deficiency and leg spasms. In response to this treatment, AlKhawaja has gone on multiple hunger strikes and protests with his fellow inmates against the dehumanizing and unjust treatment by authorities.
These charges clearly demonstrate how prison authorities are trying to silence all dissent against their systematic repression of pro-democracy Bahrainis. Many organizations and individuals have condemned these charges because they set a dangerous precedent.
ADHRB reiterates its demand that the government immediately release AbdulhHadi AlKhawaja and the thousands of other political prisoners in its prisons and compensate them for the damages is has been caused. It also calls on the government of Bahrain to:
- End its systematic use of reprisals against prisoners
- Provide them with necessary medical treatment.
- Immediately drop the unfair charges that aim to intimidate and silence critics.
- End its pretense of a respect for human rights while it continues its suppression of pro-democracy activists and oppression of basic rights.