Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today urged the U.S. Embassy in Bahrain to send an observer to tomorrow’s scheduled court verdict following the unfair trial of Bahraini peaceful opposition leader Khalil Al Halwachi. Al Halwachi, a founder of the opposition Amal group, was arrested in September 2014 and has been tried with 16 others. Like many in custody in Bahrain, he says he has been tortured into making a false confession.
“Al Halwachi’s arrest and trial is just the latest in a series of attacks on peaceful opposition leaders. Bahrain will soon reach a point of no return, making its political crisis impossible to solve,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley. “The government fears Al Halwachi because he’s educated, articulate, persuasive, and has strong international connections. Targeting him is a sign of the regime’s paranoia about a peaceful opposition.”
Al Halwachi, who is 58, studied electrical engineering at London’s prestigious Imperial College in the mid-1970s and spent 14 years teaching in Stockholm. He is charged with possessing a kalashnikov rifle for terrorist purposes, and faces up to 15 years in jail if found guilty.
Since the 2011 violent government crackdown on mass protests calling for democratic reform in Bahrain, the United States has failed to back up rhetoric in support of human rights and civil society with action, and downplayed these priorities in favor of short-term military objectives. A recent Human Rights First blueprint outlines recommendations for the U.S. government to support civil society and strengthen respect for human rights. Human Rights First’s interviews with Bahraini activists and civil society leaders revealed an enduring human rights crisis in the country, marked by denial of basic rights including freedom of association, assembly, and expression, arbitrary arrests and torture of human rights activists and opposition leaders, and a failure to hold senior officials accountable for the torture and killings that occurred during the 2011 crackdown.
“If the U.S. government is serious about urging its military ally Bahrain to develop inclusive politics it should send an observer to the court hearing tomorrow and, if he is convicted, call for Al Halwachi’s immediate release. Nearly all of Bahrain’s opposition leaders are in prison. It’s a recipe for catastrophe,” said Dooley.
Tomorrow also marks four weeks since Bahrain’s Foreign Minister announced at a press conference with Secretary Kerry that prominent dissent Zainab Al Khawaja would be released on humanitarian grounds. As of today she remains in prison, and the Bahraini government has not provided any additional information about her release.