A Bahraini activist recently released from prison has told Amnesty International she fears she may be rearrested when she attends court this week to face further spurious charges.
Zainab Al Khawaja was released on 16 February but is due to appear in court again on 19 February in two separate cases.
“The Bahraini authorities must not place Zainab Al Khawaja behind bars yet again. Her release this week was long overdue,” said Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.
“She has long been a thorn in the side of the Bahraini government, who have repeatedly found excuses to ensure she remains locked up in order to silence her.”
In the first case, Zainab Al Khawaja is accused of destroying government property after she ripped up a picture of the Bahraini King while she was detained in a women’s detention centre in ‘Issa Town on 4 and 6 May 2012. In the second, she is accused of insulting a police officer after she defended a prisoner that she claims was humiliated in front of her in June 2013.
“The authorities must take urgent steps to clear Zainab Al Khawaja’s name once and for all. Her convictions must be overturned and all outstanding charges dropped as a matter of urgency,” said Said Boumedouha.
Zainab Al Khawaja spent nearly a year in jail serving several short sentences for an array of different charges before being released on 16 February. These included destroying government property, insulting a policewoman, illegal gathering and rioting, and inciting hatred against the regime, among others.
She told Amnesty International that during her incarceration additional restrictions were placed on her when she went on hunger strike in March 2013. The prison authorities responded by denying her family visits or phone calls to her lawyer. The restrictions ended when she finished the strike.
Amnesty International had designated her a prisoner of conscience held solely for peacefully exercising her rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly and repeatedly called for her unconditional release.
Zainab Al Khawaja and her family are among many activists who have been targeted by the Bahraini authorities’ crackdown on freedom of expression and assembly in an effort to stamp out all dissent since the 2011 uprising.
“Activists must be allowed to freely express their opinions without fear of intimidation, harassment or arrest. All Bahraini prisoners of conscience must be released immediately and unconditionally and the right to freedom of expression and assembly respected,” said Said Boumedouha.
On 14 February, thousands of protesters took to the streets to mark the third anniversary of mass anti-government demonstrations in Manama. At least 26 were reportedly arrested and several were wounded as clashes broke out. A Bahraini policeman was also killed in a bomb explosion in the northern village of Dair on the same day.