Bahrain: Release leading human rights defender


(Update - 2 September 2014) - New information confirms that leading human rights defender, Maryam Al-Khawaja, is being imprisoned in Bahrain in contravention of international human rights law.

In an email to the International Service for Human Rights, Bahraini Advocate General (Public Prosecution), Haroon Othman Al Zayani, revealed that Ms Al-Khawaja is being held without charge in ‘preventative detention’ and that, four days on from her arrest, she has still not been brought before a judge to review the legality of her detention.

‘Article 9(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bahrain is party, requires that any person arrested or detained on a criminal charge must be promptly brought before a judge to review the legality of that detention. According to the UN Human Rights Committee, this should occur within a maximum of 48 hours other than in the most exceptional circumstances, which clearly do not apply in Maryam’s case,’ said ISHR Director Phil Lynch.

According to the email, Ms Al-Khawaja is being held and questioned for 'humiliating and beating' police officers at Bahrain's airport. The Advocate General denies that she is being questioned for 'insulting the king'.

The Advocate General’s email also suggests that Ms Al-Khawaja is being denied access to a lawyer during interrogation by consequence of exercising her right to silence while in the presence of a lawyer.

‘The right to counsel and the right against self-incrimination – from which the right to silence flows – are enshrined in Article 14 of the ICCPR. Denial of access to a lawyer for refusing to answer questions during an investigation is a clear violation of this provision,’ Mr Lynch said.

In addition to being concerned that Ms Al-Khawaja’s detention is arbitrary and unlawful, ISHR is also deeply concerned at bias, or a reasonable apprehension of bias, on the part of the prosecution. This flows from the fact that Ms Al-Khawaja has previously called for the removal of Bahrain’s Attorney-General, Dr Ali Al-Buainain, on the basis that, contrary to international law, he has presided over the prosecution of persons in Bahrain for exercising their basic rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. Ms Al-Khawaja’s claims in this regard were supported by a comprehensive report on the conduct of the Attorney General by Irish Lawyers for Human Rights published in 2012.

‘Maryam Al-Khawaja’s ongoing detention raises serious concerns about Bahrain’s compliance with Articles 9, 14, 19, 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,' Mry Lynch said.

'Maryam is a vital voice for human rights, democracy and accountability in Bahrain and we reiterate our call for her immediate release and for the UN and States such as the United Kingdom and the United States to take action at the highest levels in this regard,’ Mr Lynch said.


(Geneva) - Bahrain must immediately and unconditionally release leading human rights defender Maryam Al-Khawaja, who was arrested earlier today in connection with her work to promote human rights and accountability in the country.

Ms Al-Khawaja, who is Co-Director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights, was en route to visit her father Mr Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who is on a hunger strike in a Bahrain prison, when she was detained at Bahrain aiport. Mr Al-Khawaja's detention has been condemned as unlawful by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. According to messages sent from Maryam Al-Khawaja's Twitter account, she has been charged with offences including insulting the king and assaulting police. It is understood that the charges relate to Ms Al-Khawaja's involvement in a campaign called 'Wanted for Justice', which promotes accountability for serious human rights violations in Bahrain. She is being detained in Isa Town women's prison and has been denied access to a lawyer pending interrogation.

'We condemn the arrest of Maryam Al-Khawaja and call for her immediate release, together with that of all other human rights defenders who have been detained for exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful protest,' said ISHR Director Phil Lynch.

Al-Khawaja's arrest comes just a few months after 46 States made a joint statement at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva which expressed serious concern about the human rights situation in Bahrain, including in relation to 'the repression of demonstrations' and 'the continued harassment and imprisonment of persons exercising their rights to freedom of opinion and expression, including human rights defenders and journalists'.

With the 27th session of the Human Rights Council due to start in just over a week, ISHR is renewing its call for Member States to support a resolution on Bahrain to increase pressure on the country to release imprisoned human rights defenders, respect the rule of law and the right to a fair trial, and ensure proper investigations and accountability in relation to the excessive use of force by police and security officials.

'The time has come for States that are committed to democracy, human rights and the rule of law to hold Bahrain to account for its gross failings on those fronts at the Human Rights Council,' said Mr Lynch.

'A Human Rights Council resolution would increase international pressure on Bahrain to repeal repressive laws and to investigate and ensure accountability for acts of torture and ill-treatment. It would also show solidarity and support for the many brave human rights defenders and activists in the country whose work is so essential to democratisation and development,' Mr Lynch said.

For updates on the detention and condition of Maryam Al-Khawaja, follow her on Twitter @MARYAMALKHAWAJA.

Contact: Phil Lynch, Director, International Service for Human Rights, on or + 41 76 708 4738



  • Middle East and North Africa
  • Freedom of expression, association and assembly
  • Reprisals and intimidation
  • UN Human Rights Council
  • Bahrain