Abdulhadi al-Khawaja has been a well-known human rights defender for more than twenty years. Until February 2011, al-Khawaja worked as a regional coordinator for the international organization Front Line Defenders.
Just before his current detention, Mr. al-Khawaja had publicly criticized the regime’s brutal response to the anti-government protests in Bahrain. Early on April 9, 2011, fifteen masked men stormed into al-Khawaja’s apartment, breaking down the door with a sledgehammer and beat al-Khawaja until he lost consciousness. He was taken into custody along with his two sons-in-law. Authorities held him incommunicado for several weeks and tortured him. On May 8, 2011, al-Khawaja’s trial began before the National Safety Court – a military tribunal. He was prosecuted along with a diverse set of twenty other individuals. Despite the lack of evidence against him, Mr. al-Khawaja was charged and convicted with financing and participating in terrorism to overthrow the government, as well as spying for a foreign country. On June 22, 2011, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. On April 2, 2012, the Bahraini Court of Cassation began to review the verdicts of Mr. al-Khawaja and thirteen other defendants charged in relation to the 2011 anti-government protests. On April 30, 2012, the Court of Cassation ordered a retrial in civilian court and refused to release al-Khawaja on bail pending the trial. On September 4, 2012, a Bahraini appeals court upheld his sentence of life in prison. On January 7, 2013, Bahrain’s highest appeals court upheld al-Khawaja’s conviction and life sentence.
al-Khawaja has suffered four fractures to his face, requiring a four hour surgery to repair his jaw as a result of beating by security guards. He has also been subjected to sexual and psychological torture. On February 8, 2012, al-Khawaja began a hunger strike to protest his wrongful detention and treatment in prison. He ended his hunger strike after 110 days on May 30, 2012. During his hunger strike, al-Khawaja’s health deteriorated and he reportedly lost 22 pounds.
- Zainab al-Khawaja, the daughter of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, was arrested in March 2016 along with her 15 month old son. She was released in May 2016 on humanitarian grounds (May 31, 2016, The Guardian).
- Khawaja began a hunger strike on April 12 in a Manama prison to protest the 'arbitrary detention and degrading treatment of prisoners in Bahrain' (April 27, 2017, Gulf Times).