A group of independent United Nations experts today urged the Government of Bahrain to release prominent human rights defender Maryam Al-Khawaja, who has been detained since 30 August on charges of assaulting a police officer.
“The detention and decision to bring charges against Ms. Al-Khawaja is deeply concerning. In absence of credible evidence, the Government of Bahrain should take immediate steps to release her,” the experts said in a news release.
Ms. Al-Khawaja is the co-director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights. Her father, a former president and co-founder of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, Abdulhadi Abdulla Hubail al-Khawaja, has been in detention since 2011.
Ms. Al-Khawaja was detained at Bahrain International Airport while travelling to visit her father in prison. She is currently being held at a women’s prison on charges of assaulting a police officer pending investigation. Reports say her Danish passport has been confiscated and that she has been denied access to a lawyer.
“The detention of Ms. Al-Khawaja is another patent measure of retaliation against individuals who advocate for human rights in the country,” the human rights experts said.
They expressed their concern at the apparent continued harassment and imprisonment of individuals exercising their legitimate rights to freedom of opinion and expression in Bahrain.
“Detention of civil society members who seek to contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights is unacceptable,” the experts noted. “Defenders play a key role in holding States to account for the implementation of their human rights obligations, including at the international level. Their legitimate work should be fully respected.”
Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders Michel Forst expressed concern at the human rights violations faced by defenders in Bahrain, recalling that the Government had accepted recommendations to abandon restrictions on rights defenders.
“We call upon the Government of Bahrain to immediately implement the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry and the recommendations put forward during the country’s Universal Periodic Review to ensure that human rights defenders are protected and able to carry out their peaceful and legitimate work free of intimidation or persecution,” the experts urged.
Bahrain has also postponed the last two visits of the Special Rapporteur on torture, which were considered as an effective cancellation. The experts called on the Government to commit to and cooperate with all planned visits to the country.
Independent experts are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.