Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today urged the U.S. government to call publicly for the release of jailed Bahrain human rights defender Maryam Al Khawaja.
Al Khawaja was arrested early Saturday morning after arriving in Bahrain to visit her father Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, who is serving a life sentence in prison. He is undergoing a hunger strike to protest arbitrary arrests being made in Bahrain. Maryam Al Khawaja is being held for an initial seven days and is charged with assaulting police officers at the airport when they confiscated her phone, which she denies. A trial date has been set for Saturday, September 6, and further charges are thought to be possible.
“Maryam’s arrest is another part of the Bahrain government’s attempt to shut out or silence critical human rights voices. Last month U.S. Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) was denied entry to Bahrain, just a month after senior U.S. State Department official Tom Malinowski was expelled from the country after meeting opposition figures,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley. “ The U.S. government should speak out publicly about Maryam’s arrest, call for her immediate release, and tell its allies the Bahrain government that if they treat human rights defenders and U.S. officials this way it will have serious consequences for the alliance.”
Al Khawaja has consistently raised the issue of Bahrain human rights violations with countless members of Congress and administration officials over the last three years. Her father is serving a life sentence for his part in the pro-democracy protest of 2011; U.S. officials should take this opportunity to call for his immediate release and the release of his fellow prisoners who are jailed for the peaceful expression of their views.
“The U.S. government response to Malinowski’s expulsion and McGovern’s denial of access to Bahrain has been horribly quiet,” said Dooley. “It already has a serious credibility problem with Bahraini civil society which will only get worse if it fails to speak out about Maryam’s arrest and her father’s hunger strike. Bahrain is an increasingly embarrassing ally for the United States, and the Obama Administration should undertake a root and branch review of its relationship with the government there.”
Al Khawaja’s sister Zainab told Human Rights First today that the family has not yet been allowed to see her or to send a towel into the detention center where she is being held. Her lawyer, Mohammed Al Jishi, told Human Rights First that he was not allowed to meet with her before her questioning at the public prosecutor’s office nor was he allowed to advise her of her rights during the questioning.
Parliamentary elections are due in Bahrain in the coming months although the ruling family essentially controls the government, with the king’s uncles having been the kingdom’s unelected prime minister for over 40 years. Calls for reform and for the rule of law have been met with a violent crackdown and intimidation of those who call for rights. Last week the State Department said that Malinowski had been invited back to Bahrain, a claim denied three days later by the Bahrain government.