Detention Situation Deteriorates for Prominent Human Rights Defender Zainab Al-Khawaja
As Bahrain and the international community watch to see whether a consensus on reforms will come out of the Bahrain National Dialogue, prominent human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja declared she was going on hunger strike to protest against her treatment in prison.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) reported on Monday that Al-Khawaja began a hunger strike on March 17 at 4pm after members of her family, including her three-year old daughter, were prevented from visiting her. The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation stated officials were only following protocol after she refused to wear the uniform allocated for inmates. Al-Khawaja refuses to go to a hospital until she is allowed to see her daughter.
Al-Khawaja is the daughter of Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, a co-founder of BCHR and one of the country’s most prominent activists. In April 2011, about two months into the democratic uprising, he was arrested and sentenced to life in prison. Last year, he launched a 100-day hunger strike, which ended when authorities force-fed him. Now, in response to his daughter’s treatment and to being prevented from seeing her during a scheduled visit, he has launched another hunger strike.
Zainab Al-Khawaja has been arrested several times for peaceful protests. A few weeks ago she staged a one-person protest in front of the King’s palace in Qudaibiya, Manama, against the culture of impunity in the security forces, and to demand the release of the body of Mahmood Al-Jazeeri, a 20-year-old boy who died during a protest. She stood with a banner saying “You’ve arrested our fathers & children, even our bodies. Let your palaces hear, we don’t fear your prisons.”
She was arrested and taken to Hoora police station and charged with obstructing traffic, damaging property, and inciting hatred of the regime. Al-Khawaja also stated that she would not attend the public prosecution or court in protest over the lack of an independent judiciary. She has repeatedly asked prison guards to be given an official document stating prisoners’ rights, but has been refused.
On February 28 2013, she was sentenced to 3 months on a separate charge and has been in prison since. “Continuing to press for prison sentences against leading human rights figures shows what the Bahrain government really means when it says reform,” said Brian Dooley of Human Rights First who was also recently denied access to the kingdom this week.
The Al-Khawaja family have a significant following on Twitter. Al-Khawaja’s mother, Khadija Almousawi (@tublani2010) and sister, Maryam Al-Khawaja (@MARYAMALKHAWAJA) have Tweeted regularly about her treatment in prison. Almousawi has reported that prison cells which ordinarily hold 10 inmates are now being crammed with 16.