Bahrain: Foreign Office must take action

English PEN urges the Foreign Office to condemn the detention of human rights activist Maryam Al-Khawaja and her father Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja

On 9 September, English PEN joined representatives from the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and Index on Censorship outside the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to show our solidarity with political prisoners Maryam Al-Khawaja, her father Abdulhadi, and the many others detained in Bahrain, and to urge the UK government to speak out on behalf of Bahrain’s political prisoners.

Protest for Maryam and Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, September 2014 (Credit: Index on Censorship)

On 30 August 2014, prominent Bahraini human rights defender Maryam Al-Khawaja was detained upon 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. There are now serious concerns for his health.

Maryam Al-Khawaja holds dual Bahraini and Danish citizenship, and is co-director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) which has offices in Copenhagen and Beirut. Her mother said that she was refused entry in the country after presenting her Danish passport and a Bahraini identification card.

Maryam was initially held in remand at Isa Town prison on a seven-day renewable detention order, charged with allegedly assaulting a policewoman at the airport. She was also told that she could also face charges for leading a campaign called Wanted for Justice in Bahrain (which named government officials responsible for torture) and for insulting the king. She has since had her detention extended by a further ten days and her trial has been postponed, despite both the UN and NGOs from all over the world calling for her release.

In July 2014, English PEN was among 29 NGOs to write to the newly appointed Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond to highlight grave concerns over the human rights situation in Bahrain and to urge the Foreign Office to take action. Read the full text of the letter here. Despite the escalating situation, not least the fact that 600 prisoners launched a hunger strike last month in protest against the ongoing torture in Bahraini prisons, we have yet to receive a response.

We continue to call for the immediate and unconditional release of both Maryam and Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and the many others currently detained in Bahrain in violation of their right to freedom of expression, and strongly urge the UK government to join us in condemning their detention.


  • Show your support on social media: Using the hashtag #FreeMaryam, please tweet this video of Maryam, shot in May 2014 at the offices of BIRD in London, predicting her arrest and affirming her faith in non-violent activism and civil resistance. You may also want to tweet the Foreign Office @foreignoffice and the UK embassy in Bahrain @UKinBahrain, demanding that they speak out for Maryam and Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja.
  • Write to your MP urging them to show their support. A sample letter is available here.

** Thanks to our colleagues at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) for providing this sample letter, petition and footage. For more suggested actions and further information, visit the Campaign Against Arms Trade blog. **


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