PEN International is gravely concerned about the well-being of writer and prominent human rights defender Abdulhadi al-Khawaja as he enters the 65th day of his hunger strike, begun on February 8, 2012, in protest against his detention and ill-treatment. In an open letter, Al-Khawaja pledged to continue his hunger strike until “freedom or death.” PEN urges the Bahraini authorities to abide by their obligations under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Al-Khawaja and of all those currently detained in Bahrain solely for the peaceful expression of their opinions.

Background Information

According to PEN’s information, human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, the founder of the Gulf Center for Human Rights and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, went on hunger-strike on February 8, 2012, to protest his unlawful arrest in April 2011. His health has severely deteriorated and his life is at risk. He was sentenced on June 22, 2011, to life imprisonment by a military court together with 20 other activists and human rights defenders.

On April 23, 2012, Al-Khawaja and 13 of the other activists will learn the outcome of an appeal hearing currently before the Court of Cassation.
According to Al-Khawaja’s family, he has been denied visits by his family and lawyer in the past several days. His wife says that Al-Khawaja spoke to them on the evening of April 16 stating that he had agreed to take intravenous (IV) and other fluids after meeting the Danish ambassador to Bahrain. Earlier, his doctor told him that he might go into coma. During an April 14 phone call to his family from the Bahrain Defense Force Hospital, he said that he had asked to be transferred back to Jaw Prison because he claimed that the nurses and guards at the hospital were not treating him well. There are mounting concerns for his welfare.

Al-Khawaja, a former protection coordinator for the Irish human rights NGO Front Line Defenders, was arrested in April 2011 and accused of being one of the leaders of anti-government protests which began on February 14, 2011. He was tortured in custody and sentenced to life imprisonment by a military court in a grossly unfair trial in June 2011. Thirteen other activists and human rights defenders were sentenced along with him and jailed, while seven others were sentenced in absentia.

PEN is among signatories to a letter of protest published in the U.K. Guardian on April 9. For further details see the joint appeal dated March 5, 2012.

Protests led by Bahrain’s majority Shia community against the government’s policies have been underway since mid-February 2011. The Bahraini security forces responded with excessive force, using tear gas and live bullets to disperse demonstrators. Dozens of civilians were 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, including Saudi Arabia, to help suppress dissent. The State of Emergency was lifted on June 3, 2011, but many protestors who were arrested and charged under that law remain in detention. Opposition sources estimate that some four hundred people are currently on trial for their support of the protests, and further arrests and demonstrations are continuing. An inquiry mandated by the king himself that was carried out by an international panel of human rights experts found police had used excessive force; King Hamad has pledged reforms.

Write A Letter

  • Calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Abulhadi Al-Khawaja and all those currently detained in Bahrain in accordance with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bahrain is a signatory;
  • Urging the Bahraini authorities to allow him immediate access to all necessary medical treatment, regular family visits, and lawyers;
  • Calling on the Bahraini authorities to independently investigate allegations of torture;
  • Urging the Bahraini authorities to implement the recommendations made by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry established on June 29, 2011.

Send Your Letter To

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

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

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

Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Bahrain in your country if possible.

Please send appeals immediately. Contact PEN if sending appeals after May 15, 2012: ftw [at]