September 30, 2011

King of Bahrain
His Majesty Sheikh Hamad bin Issa Al-Khalifa
Office of His Majesty the King
P.O.Box 555
Rifa’a Palace
Kingdom of Bahrain.
Fax: +973 176 64 587

Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs
Sheikh Khalid bin Ali Al-Khalifa
Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs
P.O. Box 450
Kingdom of Bahrain
Fax: +973 175 31 284

Minister of Human Rights and Social Development, Acting Minister of Health
Dr. Fatima AL-Balushi
Ministry of Human Rights and Development
Kingdom of Bahrain

Your Excellencies,

On behalf of the 3,500 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to reiterate our grave concern regarding the life sentences handed down to Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace and Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja.

According to our information, on September 28, 2011, the military-run National Safety Court of Appeal confirmed the convictions of academic, blogger, and human rights activist Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace and human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, dismissing all appeals of 14 human rights activists, writers, and bloggers during the hearing. Dr. Al-Singace and Al-Khawaja were sentenced to life imprisonment and are believed to have been targeted for calling for political reform and for their reporting of human rights abuses in the country.

We understand via a trial observation mission, supported by PEN, that the defendants had been warned not speak during the hearing. The court has yet to give any reason for its decisions and the trial did not meet international standards for fairness. The defense teams have 30 days to lodge final appeals to the Court of Cassation. All 14 defendants have been on hunger strike to protest that detention and treatment of more than 30 women and young girls arrested on September 23 in the city center at the Bahrain Parliamentary by-elections. It is believed that some of these women have been released, but that 10 or more are due to go on trial this week.
Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace, head of the human rights office of the Haq movement for Liberty and Democracy, was previously arrested on August 13, 2010, on his return from London, where he had attended a conference during which he criticized Bahrain’s human rights practices. He was initially accused of “inciting violence and terrorist acts” before formally being charged under national security and counter-terrorism legislation. He was held incommunicado and in solitary confinement until his release in February 2011, following widespread calls for political reform and the release of political prisoners. He was arrested again on March 16, 2011, for publicizing the deteriorating human rights situation in the country. Dr. Al-Singace is disabled and requires a wheelchair or crutches for mobility; there are serious concerns for his well-being.

Abdulhadi Al-Khwaja is a leading human rights defender in Bahrain with a long history of political persecution. After 12 years of exile, he finally returned to Bahrain in 1999 following wide-ranging political reforms that allowed independent human rights groups to operate in the country. In 2002, he co-founded the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and he was held for two months for his political activism in 2004. Most recently, he was the Middle East and North Africa regional campaigner with Front Line Defenders. Al-Khawaja has been subject to regular threats, travel restrictions and harassment. He was arrested on April 9, 2011, and charged under national security and counter-terrorism legislation for his role in the recent pro-democracy protests. Al-Khawaja currently suffers problems with his teeth and jaw due to repeated beatings to the face during his imprisonment. He requires further medical treatment to assess the extent of long-term damage

PEN American Center believes that Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace and Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja have been targeted in violation of their right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bahrain is a signatory, and is seriously concerned for their well-being. We therefore call for their immediate and unconditional release, as well as the release of all others being held for the peaceful expression of their views, and we demand a full independent investigation into allegations of torture and ill-treatment, as well as assurances of that both men have access to the necessary medical attention.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.

Hannah Pakula
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

CC: H.E. Houda Ezra Ebrahim Nonoo
Ambassador of the Kingdom of Bahrain to the U.S.
Embassy of the Kingdom of Bahrain
3502 International Drive NW
Washington, DC 20008
Fax: (202) 362-2192

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