For interviews, please contact: or

JOHANNESBURG/LONDON – Global civil society alliance CIVICUS and Bahraini organisation Salam for Democracy & Human Rights (Salam DHR) call on Bahrain’s government to immediately release 62-year-old jailed human rights activist Abdul-Hadi al-Khawaja as a goodwill gesture ahead of the country’s 16 December National Day.

al-Khawaja, who is also a Danish citizen, has unjustly spent more than twelve years behind bars, part of a life sentence for a baseless conviction. He now suffers from ill health.

“Abdul-Hadi al-Khawaja’s lengthy, wrongful imprisonment is a stain on Bahrain’s reputation,” said Salam DHR chairman Jawad Fairooz. “If the Bahraini authorities want to improve their international image, they should free him before Bahrain’s National Day. The Danish government must also do much more to free their imprisoned citizen.”

al-Khawaja has peacefully resisted authoritarianism for decades. He co-founded the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, and his writings and poetry have inspired a generation of activists.

In 2011, Bahraini security forces arrested al-Khawaja as one of the “Bahrain 13” during Arab Spring protests. Prison guards tortured him, and prosecutors accused him without evidence of managing a terrorist organization and attempting to overthrow the government by force. During his trial, held in a military court, the judges repeatedly silenced him when he spoke about torture. The rest of his co-defendants received sentences of between one year and life in prison, all for convictions on fabricated charges.

al-Khawaja has undertaken hunger strikes to protest ill treatment of prisoners. Authorities have force-fed him which amounts to torture, prevented family calls and denied medical care. During an August 2023 hunger strike, guards admitted him to a military hospital’s intensive care unit due to heart irregularities. Following treatment and the reported stabilising of his condition, the authorities returned him to Jau Prison where he resumed his strike.

“The treatment of al-Khawaja and the Bahrain 13 does not serve justice, fairness or human rights. We know this, and the world knows this.” said CIVICUS campaigns officer and MENA Advocacy Lead Asma Darwish. “As we demand al-Khawaja’s release, we also demand the release of all prisoners of conscience in Bahrain to end this dark chapter in the country’s history.”

In 2022, al-Khawaja received the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. CIVICUS features him in its #StandAsMyWitness Campaign to release jailed activists around the world.

CIVICUS and Salam DHR further call on the Danish government to work with Bahrain’s authorities to release al-Khawaja. Denmark must demand his freedom and conduct consular visits to ensure his health and safety. Denmark should also raise the issue with top European Union officials and bodies.

“The Danish government has given some attention to al-Khawaja’s case, but clearly it is not enough,” said Fairooz. “Denmark and the European Union have a responsibility to protect their citizens from torture. They must use every diplomatic and legal tool available to end al-Khawaja’s imprisonment.”

For interviews, please contact: or

CIVICUS is the global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world. A worldwide community of informed, inspired, committed citizens engaged in confronting the challenges facing humanity. We were established in 1993 and since 2002 have been proudly headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa, with additional hubs across the globe. We are a membership alliance with more than 15,000 members in more than 175 countries.

Founded in 2012, Salam for Democracy & Human Rights(Salam DHR) is a human rights NGO. It is registered in France, the United Kingdom (UK) & Switzerland. We undertake research & advocacy, mainly in relation to Bahrain, but also the Gulf, the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region & in relation to thematic issues, notably statelessness. We engage with other NGOs, notably partners (see below) and frequently act in coalition with others to achieve specific targets or outcomes. We engage with intergovernmental organisations and states in order to bring about socio-political reform and ever-improving adherence by states to international human rights standards & practices. The organisation is not, in effect, allowed to register in Bahrain. Salam DHR is mainly crowd funded, notably by philanthropically-minded people & firms in Bahrain & the Gulf. At the time of writing, it has a small portfolio of project-related funding. Salam DHR is independent of all governments.