29 December 2014 – A group of United Nations human rights experts are urging the government of Bahrain to drop charges against three women human rights activists exercising their rights to free expression and free association.
“All three activists have been detained or sentenced purely for their criticism of government authorities,” the independent experts said in a statement released today.
“Such criticism is not only fully legitimate according to Bahrain’s obligations under human rights law; it is also essential to the free and public debate necessary for a healthy civil society.”
The three activists include two sisters Ms. Maryam Al-Khawaja and Ms. Zainab Al-Khawaja, and Ms. Ghada Jamsheer.
Ms. Maryam Al-Khawaja, the co-director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, was sentenced on 1 December for allegedly assaulting airport security officers. Her sister, Ms. Zainab Al-Khawaja, a women’s rights and social media activist in Bahrain, was sentenced on 4 December to three years in prison and fined $7,900 for tearing a picture of Bahrain’s King during a court hearing in October. Several days later, she was sentenced to an additional year for “insulting a public servant” and is facing further charges for insulting a police officer and trespassing.
The two women activists are daughters of Mr. Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, the former president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, who has been in detention since 2011. UN experts have called for his release numerous times.
Ms. Ghada Jamsheer, head of the Women’s Petition Committee, a network of Bahraini women human rights defenders who campaign for the codification and reform of Bahrain’s family laws, was detained for more than three months since mid-September at Isa Town women’s prison on charges of “defamatory tweets” and for her critical views about corruption in the management of a local hospital. Since 15 December, she has been under house arrest and is currently facing 12 charges, including new charges of ‘assaulting a police officer’ during her detention.
“We are extremely concerned about the ongoing harassment and criminalization of activists in Bahrain,” the experts said today. “We urge the authorities to turn away from such persecution and immediately drop all the charges against the Al-Khawaja sisters and Ms. Jamsheer.”
On a number of occasions the experts have expressed grave concerns to the Bahraini Government concerning the harassment of human rights defenders, including Nabeel Rajab and Abdulhadi al-Khawaja. They have urged the authorities to review Bahraini laws and practices to be compliant with Bahrain’s obligations under human rights law, especially the freedoms of expression and association and the right not to be arbitrarily deprived of liberty.
The experts commenting on the matter include Mads Andenas, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; and Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.
UN human rights experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. They are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.