Another prominent Bahraini human rights activist arrested

Zainab Alkhawaja, sister of Bahraini human rights activist Maryam Alkhawaja and daughter of imprisoned activist Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, has been arrested in Bahrain for tearing up a photograph of the King.

She is currently almost nine months pregnant and could face giving birth in prison.

Though the tearing up the photo of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, which occurred originally around 18 months ago, was the primary reason given for the arrest, there are numerous outstanding charges against her which carry a number of potential jail sentences.

The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) said that the charges against her were purely political.

“The charges against Zainab Al-Khawaja are entirely related to freedom of expression, and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and Gulf Center for Human Rights reiterate their calls for the immediate dismissal of these cases and all other politically motivated charges against her,” the organisation said in a press release.

Speaking to the court, she is reported to have proclaimed “I am the daughter of a proud and free man. My mother brought me into this world free, and I will give birth to a free baby boy even if it is inside our prisons. It is my right, and my responsibility as a free person, to protest against oppression and oppressors.”

She proceeded to, again, tear up a photo of Al-Khalifa in half in front of the court.

Speaking at a press conference in London, her sister Maryam – who is also co-director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights – condemned her arrest as a means of silencing and discrediting non-violent activists in the Gulf.

“I think that’s one of the biggest threats that we face in the region – why is it that we’re seeing so much violence increase in different countries around the Middle East and North Africa today?” she told the conference.

“It’s because people have no space to do non-violent activism and the people who preach non-violent activism as the only methodology are quickly silenced by the regimes.”

Maryam also criticised the lack of coverage of Zainab’s arrest.

“The first time she was arrested there was a huge fuss about her arrest and she was released,” she said.

“So what the Bahrain government did was they kept releasing her, arresting her, releasing her, arresting her, until the media lost interest in the case.”

“Now when she gets arrested, you barely see any media attention on the case.”

Abdelhadi Alkhawaja, father of Maryam and Zainab, has been in prison since his arrest for taking part in the Arab Spring protests in February 2011.

He recently took part in a hunger strike while in prison which eventually broke off due to the pressures put on other imprisoned activists.

Numerous activists have been arrested and imprisoned since the beginning of pro-democracy protests in Bahrain in 2011.

“The latest hunger strike took a pretty heavy toll on his health,” Maryam said at the press conference.

“He now has stigmatism in one of his eyes.”

She said that he was currently requiring an operation on his face due a previous attack by the security services where his jaw was broken in five places.

“They’re telling him that the only way they’ll do that operation is if he does it at the Bahrain Defence Force hospital where he was tortured previously,” said Maryam.

“So he’s refusing to go there.”

In September Nabeel Rajab, co-founder of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, was arrested after returning to Bahrain and now faces a charge of “insulting a public institution.”

The Bahrain government has repeatedly condemned anti-government activists in Bahrain as Iran-supported Shia Islamist partisans.

Both Abdulhadi Alkhwaja and Nabeel Rajab have been suspected of involvement with the Shiite Islamist Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain.

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