On 5 April 2021 prominent Bahraini human rights defender Abdul-Hadi al-Khawaja turns 60. A few days after his birthday, 9 April, marks ten years since he was first arrested for organising protests calling for political reforms in 2011. On his birthday, 10 human rights organisations from across the globe call for the unconditional and immediate release of Abdul- Hadi.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of pro-democracy protests which began in Bahrain’s capital, Manama, in February 2011. The demonstrations were brutally suppressed by the authorities resulting in the deaths of nearly 100 people and the arrest of thousands. Abdul-Hadi al-Khawaja was part of the “Bahrain 13”, a group of well-known opposition leaders arrested in March and April 2011 after calling for civil and political rights during the February uprising. A Bahraini military court sentenced them to life imprisonment in what is widely regarded as a series of unfair trials.
“In Bahrain, Abdul-Hadi al-Khawaja is turning 60. After 10 years of unjustified incarceration, mistreatment, and abuse, it will hardly be a happy occasion. But it is a moment to raise our voices, yet again, to call for an end to this inhumanity, to this injustice, and to demand his immediate release.” Annie Game, Executive Director, IFEX.
While in prison, Abdul-Hadi has been systematically tortured, physically and sexually abused and subjected to lengthy solitary confinement. Security personnel have also made sexual threats against his wife and daughter. A recent report by the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) shows those responsible for torturing and injuring the Bahraini human rights defender and other activists have never been held to account.
“Bahrain continues to act in complete impunity, holding Abdul-Hadi al-Khawaja in detention for his peaceful work. While authorities continue to paint themselves as progressive through sports-washing and standing for council at the UNHRC, the true marker of their commitment to human rights is the immediate and unconditional release of all detained defenders, including al-Khawaja.” David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead, CIVICUS.
Abdul-Hadi al-Khawaja has repeatedly gone on hunger strikes to protest his detention and his health has significantly deteriorated during the last ten years. Abdul- Hadi’s family are increasingly concerned about his well-being while in prison, where the cramped and unsanitary conditions put him at risk of contracting COVID-19:
“My colleague Abdul-Hadi is one of the few MENA defenders who sacrificed everything they possessed for their peaceful and legitimate human rights work. His achievements must be celebrated. Prison is not the place for him – he needs a free space in which he will be able to offer his rich experience in building our societies on the basis of social justice and respect for the civil and human rights of citizens.” Khalid Ibrahim, Executive Director, GCHR.
“Throughout the past decade we have missed him greatly, and have feared for his life. But today it has become worse, we have not seen him for more than a year as all visits have been cancelled, and fear his imprisonment could be a death sentence at a time when the pandemic is spreading inside Jau prison. Is a brutal arrest, severe torture and a 10 years imprisonment not enough punishment for a person whose only crime is peacefully calling for democracy and human rights? Is it not time for him to come home?” al-Khawaja family.
Abdul-Hadi is former President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, Co-Founder of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights and in 2005 was named activist of the year by the Arab Program for Human Rights Activists. He should never have been arrested for organising peaceful protests and for campaigning for freedom and democracy.
To mark the 60th birthday of Abdul-Hadi al-Khawaja, CIVICUS and other human rights organisations calls on the Bahraini authorities to drop Abdul- Hadi Al-Khawaja’s life sentence and to unconditionally release him and other human right defenders. Reflecting on the need for urgent intervention, Nedal Al-Salman from the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights said, “now is the time to join forces and work in collective action. We cannot afford to fail in our calls to have al-Khawaja released, especially as 10 years have passed.”
Abdul-Hadi will also be added as one of the ‘faces’ of CIVICUS’s #StandAsMyWitness campaign, which calls for the release of imprisoned human rights defenders across the globe.