Age: 33 years
Occupation: Human Rights Activist
Current Situation: Detained since March 14, 2016 with her 15-month old son “Abdulhadi”; after being convicted of “ripping up the King’s picture” and “insulting a public official”.
Zainab Abdulhadi al-Khawaja is a Bahraini human rights activist and a participant in the Bahraini uprising 2011. Al-Khawaja is known for her coverage of Bahrain’s protest movements via her Twitter account, written in English, under the pseudonym “AngryArabiya”.
On the 14th of March 2016, al-Khawaja got arrested with her 15-month-old son by the security forces; after being convicted of a number of charges, including “ripping up a picture of Bahrain’s King” that constitutes a crime in Bahrain and “insulting a public official”. According to reports received from the family, al-Khawaja suffered mistreatment in her first day of detention, as she was left for more than five hours at “Al-Hoora” police station although she was carrying her baby son “Abdulhadi” the entire time. The police also refused to give food to her son after requesting it several times.
Wafi Al-Majed, Al-Khawaja’s husband, pointed out that his wife’s detention was unexpected particularly that she has been earlier sentenced to prison but the rulings have not been implemented at that time. He believed that her wife’s detention came to make the emerging human rights issued be dismissed and disregarded by people. These issues include stripping off citizenship from some activists, and deporting many of the Lebanese community’s members on a charge of sympathizing with Hezbollah group, in addition to al-Khawaja’s sister (Mariam al-Khawaja)’s participation in a UN Human Rights Council’s meeting in Geneva.
There is a crackdown campaign launched on human rights activists and has been increasingly boosted in recent times. Zainab al-Khawaja’s detention comes in the context of this campaign, Al-Majed further asserted.
Al-Khawaja was sentenced by Bahraini courts to a total of three years and a month in prison. The courts also ordered her to pay 3,000 Bahraini dinars (USD $ 8000) as a fine, for several charges related to peaceful opposition and freedom of expression. On the first of December, 2014, al-Khawaja was sentenced to prison for allegedly “insulting a police officer” during a peaceful protest and offending the monarch by simply tearing up a picture of him. In October 2015, Bahrain’s Court of Appeal confirmed her conviction of insulting the King, however it commuted the sentence from three years to only one year in prison. The same court also upheld a nine-month in prison sentence issued against Zainab; for attempting to visit her father at Jaw Prison during his hunger strike that he staged in 2014 in protest against poor prison conditions.
Shortly after her arrest, al-Khawaja sent a letter from her prison. She 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.”
A-Khawaja 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.”
Along with two other women, al-Khawaja was detained for seven hours on 15 June after staging a sit-in at Bahrain’s United Nations office; calling upon the international community to exert pressure for the release of “the political prisoners”. Al-Khawaja was arrested once again, on December 15, following a sit-in held in Budaiya Street, west of Manama. She was chanting slogans that call for toppling King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. In February 2012, the human rights activist was apprehended on a charge of “gathering and participating in an unauthorized march” that was heading to former Pearl Roundabout (Lulu Roundabout). Whereas in April, she got arrested after taking part in a demonstration in front of the Interior Ministry to demand the release of her father over an accusation of “assaulting a public official”. Also, during her participation in anti-Formula 1 protests, al-Khawaja was detained on April 21.
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.
What can you do?
1- Send some information or picture of Zainab Al-Khawaja along with her baby via “Facebook” or “Twitter”.
2- Share the hashtag #FreeZainabAndBaby to pressurize the Bahraini authorities into releasing Al-Khawaja
3- Send the Head of His Royal Highness the Prime Minister’s Court an e-mail on email@example.com
or call: 17200000 – 17200000 demanding from the Prime Minister to release human rights activist Zainab Al-Khawaja
4- Communicate with Ministry of Justice & Islamic Affairs via website: http://www.moj.gov.bh/
calling on the ministry to release human rights activist Zainab Al-Khawaja
5- Send an e-mail to the Shura Council on: firstname.lastname@example.org
demanding from the Shura Council to release human rights activist Zainab Al-Khawaja
6- 4- Write to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders at: email@example.com