December 21, 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 welcome the release on bail of blogger and activist Zainab al-Khawaja.

According to our information, Zainab al-Khawaja was released on bail on December 20, 2011. The Bahraini Public Prosecutor decided to release Zainab pending trial for allegedly assaulting a police officer and taking part in an illegal protest. News of her detention was widely circulated on the Internet.

Zainab was arrested on December 15, 2011, following her participation in a peaceful sit-in in Budaiya roundabout. Al-Jazeera reported that police arrested Zainab as security forces clashed with protestors attempting to march along a highway leading to Manama.

Zainab is the daughter of prominent human rights defender Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who is currently serving a life sentence for his peaceful opposition activities. She is one of an estimated 400 people who have been arrested and face trial for their support of the majority Shia protests in Bahrain. An international panel of human rights experts found that police responded with excessive force when dealing with protestors, using tear gas and live bullets. Dozens have reportedly been killed, and many more wounded. The Bahraini government declared a State of Emergency on March 15, 2011, and brought in troops from neighboring Gulf countries to suppress dissent. Although the State of Emergency was lifted on June 3, those wrongly arrested and charged under that law have not yet been released.

PEN American Center believes that Zainab al-Khawaja has been targeted in violation of her 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. While we welcome her release on bail, we are concerned that she still faces trial for her peaceful activities. We therefore call for her immediate and unconditional release, as well as the release of all others being held for the peaceful expression of their views, and we seek assurances that she is not being ill-treated while detained.

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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