BahrainHuman Rights

Rights groups urge Bahrain to free renowned activists

Human rights activist Rajab shows the victory sign as he marches on a highway to participate in a week-long anti-government sit-in in Budaiya

Human rights organizations have called on Bahraini authorities to drop all criminal charges against two detained prominent human rights activists, Nabeel Rajab and Zainab al-Khawaja.

On Sunday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the [Persian] Gulf Center for Human Rights ([P]GCHR) urged the Manama regime to release the two activists immediately.

“These two courageous activists face years in jail for their peaceful criticism of a deeply repressive government,” said HRW Deputy Director of Middle East and North Africa Joe Stork, who added, “A lot of influential governments that vociferously champion free speech elsewhere seem to have become shamefully coy where rights violations in Bahrain are concerned.”

The HRW said the two activists’ charges clearly violate their right to freedom of speech and called on Manama to immediately revoke all laws that violate freedom of speech, including those that criminalize insulting or defaming state institutions or the monarch.

Rajab is due in court on October 29 to face charges of offending the Interior Ministry and may be sentenced to three years in jail, while Zainab al-Khawaja, who is eight months pregnant, is scheduled to stand trial on October 30. The activist could receive up to seven years in jail on charges of insulting the king of Bahrain.

“The silence of the UK, the EU, and others may result in Nabeel Rajab and Zainab al-Khawaja paying a further heavy cost for their activism,” [P]GCHR Co-director Khalid Ibrahim said, adding, “Bahrain and the [Persian] Gulf region in general are quickly becoming the litmus test when it comes to states’ support for freedom of expression.”

Since mid-February 2011, thousands of protesters have held numerous demonstrations in the streets of Bahrain, calling on the Al Khalifa royal family to step down. The protesters have also slammed the Manama regime’s arrest and torture of political activists.

Many Bahrainis have been killed and hundreds injured and arrested in the ongoing crackdown on peaceful demonstrations.

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