Bahrain: Maryam Al-Khawaja remains defiant after in absentia prison sentence

Leading Bahraini human rights activist Maryam Al-Khawaja has told Amnesty International she is determined to continue to expose abuses in the Gulf state despite being sentenced today, in absentia, to one year in prison. 

Maryam Al-Khawaja and her family have been targeted relentlessly by the state. Her father, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, a leading human rights activist and prisoner of conscience, is currently serving a life sentence. Her sister Zainab Al-Khawaja is also due back in court on 4 December. 

“What matters is not if I have been sentenced to one or to 15 years because the consequences will be the same; if I go back to Bahrain I will go to prison, so this means I cannot see my family, especially my father. However, this sentence is not going to affect my determination to continue working on human rights issues,” Maryam Al-Khawaja told Amnesty International. 

Maryam Al-Khawaja, co-Director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights, was arrested on 30 August upon arrival at Bahrain International Airport in Manama, for allegedly “assaulting police officers” while she was being searched. She had returned to Bahrain to visit her imprisoned father who was on hunger strike at that time

Following her arrest, she was interrogated by the Public Prosecutor but refused to answer questions because she was not allowed to speak to her lawyer. She was released on bail on 18 September and left the country on 2 October after a travel ban was lifted but her trial for “assaulting police officers” continued.

On 30 November, Maryam stated she had decided to boycott the trial because she said, amongst other things, that Bahrain’s judiciary lacks independence and her human rights were violated during her interrogation. 

“Maryam Al-Khawaja appears to be targeted for exposing the human rights violations taking place in Bahrain since 2011. The authorities must ensure her conviction and sentence are quashed and drop any pending charges against her,” said Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.