PEN International welcomes the release of activist Maryam Al-Khawaja

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PEN International joins English PEN in welcoming the release of activist Maryam Al-Khawaja

Yesterday, 18 September 2014, PEN International and English PEN joined more than 150 organisations from across the globe in co-signing an open letter to King Hamad of Bahrain calling for the release of activist Maryam Al-Khawaja and for an end to the clampdown on civil society in Bahrain. Within a matter of hours of the letter being published, it was announced that Maryam was to be released.

Maryam Al-Khawaja had been detained since 30 August 2014, following her arrival in Manama, where she had travelled to see her ailing father Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja. Abdulhadi, a PEN main case who is currently serving a life sentence for his legitimate human rights activity, has been on hunger strike since 26 August. Now into the fifth week of his hunger strike, concerns for his health and that of the many other detainees on strike in solidarity with him, are so grave that the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) issued an open letter urging him to stop the strike immediately. His wife Khadija Almousawi has since published Abdulhadi’s response via Twitter, in which he states ‘as the world can see we’re in a situation where our only choice to demand rights and freedoms is by risking our lives.’

Following her release, Maryam also took to Twitter to thank her supporters and to urge them to continue to speak out in support of her father and the many other activists in prison in Bahrain:

Thank you to all my colleagues, friends, family, and everyone who worked and campaigned for my release #Bahrain

If the international community cud secure my release tht gives me hope that we can do the same 4 d thousands of political prisoners #Bahrain

Whilst we are relieved and delighted that Maryam has been released from prison, we are seriously concerned that the charges against her remain and that the authorities have imposed a ban on her travelling. We are therefore calling for all charges against her to be dropped ahead of her first hearing, scheduled for 1 October 2014, and for the travel ban to be overturned. We are also continuing to call for the immediate release of her father Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, his co-defendant Abduljalil Al-Singace and the many others who remain detained in Bahrain in violation of their right to freedom of expression.

For further information, please contact Cathy McCann at PEN International, Brownlow House, 50/51 High Holborn, London, WC1V 6ER, Tel.: +44 (0) 20 7405 0338, Fax: +44 (0) 20 7405 0339, Email: Cathy.McCann@pen-international.org

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Open Letter: Release Maryam Al-Khawaja

Maryam al-Khawaja was detained entering Bahrain.


PEN International joins English PEN and 155 other civil society organisations around the world, in co-signing an open letter to King Hamad of Bahrain. The letter, co-ordinated by the CIVICUS alliance, calls for the release of detained activist Maryam Al-Khawaja and for an end to the clampdown on civil society in Bahrain

The letter was also co-signed by PEN centres from Denmark, Ghana, Mexico, Nicaragua, the United States, Egypt, South Africa and Switzerland. You can view the full text below.

18 September 2014

HM Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa
Office of His Majesty the King
Rifa’a Palace, al-Manama, Bahrain

Dear King Hamad,

We, the undersigned 155 civil society organisations based in over 60 countries write to you united in our condemnation of the politically motivated arrest of human rights defender and co-director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Maryam Al-Khawaja at Manama airport on 30 August 2014. We urge that Maryam is immediately and unconditionally released.

We believe that Maryam Al-Khawaja is being persecuted for exercising her legitimate rights to freedom of expression and association in the defence of fundamental freedoms including her co-operation with international institutions and her important role in documenting human rights violations in Bahrain. We stand in solidarity with Maryam and all other human rights defenders wrongly imprisoned by your government for their work and beliefs.

We remind you that the harassment, intimidation or stigmatization of a human rights defender, including arrest, detention, trial or imprisonment for reasons of the opinions they may hold, constitute a serious violation of Bahrain’s obligations under international law.

We remain concerned that since the pro-democracy protests intensified in February 2011 your government has deliberately subverted democratic freedoms using a combination of legal and extra-legal measures involving politically motivated prosecutions, brutal crackdowns on protests and silencing expressions of dissent in the print and online media. Many have raised the concern about the arbitrary detention of hundreds of pro-democracy activists and their being subjected to torture and ill-treatment in detention centres across Bahrain.

At the UN Human Rights Council, during Bahrain’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2012 your government agreed to protect human rights defenders and allow them to conduct their work without hindrance, intimidation or harassment. On 5 September 2014, a group of United Nations independent human rights experts also demanded Maryam Al-Khawaja’s release, and urged you to follow through on your commitments made during the UPR to end the persecution of all human rights defenders in Bahrain. We support Maryam’s courage and strength for advocating for democratic change.

We urge your government to recognise the legitimate demands of the Bahraini people for their rights and end the cycle of protest and repression. We thus call upon you to begin a process of democratic reform, healing and reconciliation in Bahrain.

Key steps towards achieving the above would be to release all detained human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience and cease the oppression of human rights defenders, journalists and civil society organizations.

Read more on the CIVICUS website.

This article was originally published by PEN International on September 18, 2014

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