The Government has been urged to do more to press Bahrain to release a former employee of the Dublin-based human rights group, Front Line Defenders, who is serving a life sentence in the Gulf kingdom.
Last month Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja (61), who has dual Danish-Bahraini citizenship, dismissed his legal team before fresh court hearing in Bahrain in protest at not being allowed see them before the hearings or attend the hearings himself.
The latest development comes in the wake of a resolution from the European Parliament in December calling for Mr Al-Khawaja’s release and describing a series of new charges that are being brought against him as “judicial harassment”.
The former Bahrain-based regional co-ordinator with Front Line Defenders was jailed for life in 2011 for his part in protests calling for democratic reforms in the kingdom.
“After his arrest, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja was beaten, tortured and sentenced in an unfair trial that did not comply with Bahraini criminal law or minimum international standards for fair trials,” the EU resolution said.
We would like to see the government being more vocal publicly in relation to his case, to make sure the Danes know they have the Irish government’s support
When Mr Al-Khawaja worked for Front Line Defenders he had responsibility for human rights issues in the Middle East region but not in Bahrain as that would not have been safe for him.
“When the Arab Spring came, he resigned, so that he could become more active in Bahrain,” said Michelle Foley, of Front Line Defenders. “We would like to see the government being more vocal publicly in relation to his case, to make sure the Danes know they have the Irish government’s support.”
[ Calls to release former Front Line Defenders employee from Bahrain prison to Ireland ]
The chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan, said he had urged the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin, to raise the matter at EU level. Mr Al-Khawaja is “a Danish national and so, from the EU perspective, Denmark is the lead”, he said.
“I am satisfied that there are serious human rights abuses in Bahrain and one of them is the treatment of prisoners and the life sentence that [Mr Al-Khawaja] is serving,” he said. “His deteriorating health condition is a cause of concern.”
Mr Al-Khawaja’s daughter, Maryam Al-Khawaja, also called on the Irish Government to do more to press for her father’s release. She said the family are very concerned about her father’s health because of the torture he has suffered, the enduring effects of hunger strikes he has undergone, and his need for proper medical care.
Her father was beaten so badly on the night he was arrested that bones in his face were broken. He has also suffered spinal injuries because of his mistreatment, she said.
I had spoken to him on the phone but I hadn’t seen his face. He didn’t look like my father
Since early 2020 the family are allowed a video call with him every Sunday, for approximately 20 minutes. Before that, Ms Al-Khawaja (35) had not seen her father since 2014.
“I had spoken to him on the phone but I hadn’t seen his face. He didn’t look like my father. He had lost so much weight that I barely recognised him.”
She left Bahrain in 2010, because of a government crackdown, and returned to the country in 2014 because her father was on hunger strike. “I wanted to see him in case the worst happened, and also to bring attention to his case. I was arrested at the airport.”
After she went on hunger strike, she was allowed to see her father. “That was the first time I had seen him in years. We met as prisoners, both of us.”
She left the country again in 2014 and has been campaigning for his release ever since. “I was 23 when it all started, so it has been quite some time.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs said officials were in regular contact with the Danish authorities about the case, adding: “Department officials have met the family of Mr Al-Khawaja. The case has also been raised directly with the Bahraini authorities at EU-level.”