Bahrain: Leading rights defender faces fresh charges over prison protests
One of Bahrain’s most prominent human rights defenders who is already serving a life sentence faces a series of fresh charges over his protests from prison, his family and rights groups have reported.
Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja, 61, who was imprisoned in 2011 after leading peaceful protests calling for fundamental freedoms in the kingdom, will be tried on Wednesday over the first of at least three new charges.
Al-Khawaja has told his family that each of the charges is linked to his protests over conditions in Jau Prison where he has been held for nearly 12 years.
The hearing on Wednesday will focus on charges that Al-Khawaja allegedly broke a plastic chair a year ago when he was denied the right to call his daughters from prison.
“My father is yet again facing multiple charges for the exact same reasons - that he insists on speaking up in the face of injustice,” Al-Khawaja’s daughter, Maryam Al-Khawaja, said on Wednesday.
The new legal cases come, she said, at a time when there have been fresh calls internationally for the immediate release of her father, including as a result of health issues he has after he was tortured by security forces in 2011.
"The Bahrain regime responds by doubling down on and worsening their reprisals rather than heeding the calls for his release," she said.
The charges include incitement to overthrow the government and insulting a foreign country - Israel - after he chanted against Bahrain’s normalisation deal.
Al-Khawaja told his family that he anticipates a fourth charge to be levelled at him related to his protest over the assault against Sheikh Abduljalil al-Miqdad, a leading Shia cleric who is also imprisoned, in September.
The Bahraini embassy in London did not immediately respond to MEE's request for comment.
Rights groups say they believe the charges are an attempt to intimidate Al-Khawaja and other prisoners who speak up from jail.
“Bahraini authorities are using this slew of new charges against Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja to punish and silence him for speaking out against his unjust imprisonment,” said Joey Shea, Middle East and North Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director at the UK-based Bahraini Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), said the charges set a dangerous precedent.
“Bahrain’s allies in the US and UK must publicly condemn this judicial harassment, call for the charges to be dropped and for Al-Khawaja’s immediate and unconditional release,” he said.
Al-Khawaja is scheduled to go to court next week on charges that he insulted Israel. Observers say it would be the first time an inmate has faced a court hearing in Bahrain over a peaceful protest in prison since the kingdom normalised relations with Israel in 2020.
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