Bahrain: Release Zainab Al-Khawaja and 15 month old son


Authorities in Bahrain should immediately and unconditionally release human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja and her 15 month old son, Abdul-Hadi, after they were taken into custody today.

(Update, 18 March 2016) - The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, together with the UN's expert on human rights defenders, Michel Forst, have supported the calls by ISHR and other NGOs for the immediate release of Bahraini woman human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja, imprisoned for exercising her right to freedom of expression. Zainab's 15 month old son, Abdul-Hadi, has been detained with her.

'Zainab has been detained purely for her critical views against government authorities,' said UN Special Rapporteur Michel Forst in a statement. 'Such criticism is not only fully legitimate according to Bahrain’s obligations under human rights law. It is absolutely essential to the free and public debate necessary for a vibrant civil society.'

In a separate statement, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said, 'We are concerned about recent laws that seriously curtail the right to freedom of expression in Bahrain...These provisions are regularly used to censor and intimidate human rights activists and journalists documenting or raising awareness about abuses...In addition to restrictions on freedom of expression there is also a serious issue regarding the right to freedom of assembly in Bahrain. Gatherings in the capital have been indefinitely banned since 2013, and dozens of people – including minors -- who have participated in protests have been prosecuted.'

'The ongoing harassment and criminalization of activists in Bahrain should stop,' said Special Rapporteur Michel Forst. 'I urge the authorities to cease such persecution and immediately drop all the charges against Zainab Al-Khawaja.' 


(Geneva) - Authorities in Bahrain should immediately and unconditionally release human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja and her 15 month old son, Abdul-Hadi, after they were taken into custody  today. After initially being taken to AlHoora police station it is anticipated that they will be transferred to Isa Town Women's Prison.

Al-Khawaja's detention follows from her being sentenced to a total of three years in prison on charges including 'destroying public property' by tearing up a picture of Bahrain's monarch, 'insulting a public offical', namely a police officer, and 'entering a restricted area', when she sought to visit her father and leading human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja in prison. The various trials associated with these charges did not comply with the minimum requirements of a fair trial under international human rights law, with the latest sentence against Zainab being confirmed on 2 February 2016 in absentia.

'Zainab Al-Khawaja has been prosecuted, persecuted and now arbitrarily detained in retaliation for her exercise of the basic rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly,' said ISHR Director Phil Lynch.

'Zainab's detention is clearly incompatible with Bahrain's obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which it became party in 2006, and under the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. Further, the detention of Zainab's 15 month old son is clearly not in the best interests of the child and places Bahrain in flagrant violation of its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child,' Mr Lynch said.

The Al-Khawaja family has been repeatedly targeted for its human rights advocacy and activism by Bahraini authorities. Zainab's father Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja is currently serving a life sentence handed down in 2011 in connection with his peaceful human rights activism, while Zainab's sister Maryam Al-Khawaja has also been harassed, arrested and detained. Maryam now serves as a Board member of the International Service for Human Rights and a Co-Director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights, which her father founded.

ISHR's call for the release of Zainab and her son comes just days after the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein told the UN Human Rights Council that:

In Bahrain, despite progress made, political opponents, journalists and human rights defenders continue to be silenced by arrests, revocation of citizenship and deportation. Profound reform is still required, to achieve much more inclusive participation.

In addition to being arbitrarily detained, Zainab has been denied a passport, while her 15 month old son has been denied a birth certificate, again in violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

ISHR joins with its partners at the Gulf Center for Human Rights in calling for authorities in Bahrain, in compliance with their obligations under the ICCPR, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, to:

  1. Immediately and uncoditionally release Zainab Al-Khawaja, her son and all other human rights defenders detained in association with their peaceful human rights activities;
  2. Cease the judicial harassment of human rights defenders and ensure their protection from any forms of harassment, torture, ill-treatment, intimidation or reprisal;
  3. Overturn prison sentences handed down against Zainab Al-Khawaja in contravention of international human rights law; and
  4. End the judicial harassment of Zainab Al-Khawaja, provide a birth certificate to her son, and renew her passport.

Contact: Phil Lynch, Director, International Service for Human Rights, on


  • Middle East and North Africa
  • Freedom of expression, association and assembly
  • Human rights defenders
  • Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
  • UN Human Rights Council
  • Bahrain