Denmark must do more to free Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja on Bahrain uprising anniversary

COPENHAGEN/LONDON/JOHANNESBURG – The #FreeAl-Khawaja Campaign, SALAM DHR and the global civil society alliance CIVICUS call on Denmark to do more to secure the release of jailed Danish-Bahraini human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja ahead of the anniversary of Bahrain’s Arab Spring uprising.

“Nearly thirteen years of collective efforts have failed to free Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja,” said Asma Darwish, CIVICUS Campaigns Officer and MENA Advocacy Lead. “It is time for the Danish government to review and revamp its approach to securing his release.”

Al-Khawaja is Bahrain’s leading human rights defender and a winner of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. His decades of work have inspired a generation of activists calling for civil and political freedoms. In 2020, CIVICUS added him to its Stand As My Witness campaign calling for the release of jailed human rights defenders, activists, journalists and dissidents around the world.

Following the outbreak of mass gatherings against the regime on February 14, 2011, Bahrain’s security forces arrested Al-Khawaja for calling for civil and political rights. They later convicted him on trumped-up charges in a flawed trial. Bahraini authorities have repeatedly tortured him in the notorious Jau prison, and he has staged numerous hunger strikes.

Despite his international recognition and the arbitrary and unjust nature of his imprisonment, Bahrain has refused to release Al-Khawaja and has prevented family members from visiting him. Given the dire situation, #FreeAl-Khawaja Campaign, Salam DHR and CIVICUS believe Denmark must take more action to secure his release.

“Our requests are simple: Denmark should work closely with Al-Khawaja’s family to develop a new strategy, hold private visits with him in prison and push the European Union to take action to protect his rights as an EU citizen,” said Salam DHR chairman Jawad Fairooz. “Given the Denmark government’s commitments to human rights, we believe it can quickly follow through.”

Denmark’s government can particularly do more to press for Al-Khawaja’s immediate and unconditional release, the three organisations said. Denmark should directly call for Bahrain’s government to take tangible action to protect his human rights leading to his release, they added.

In addition, the groups call on Denmark’s government to engage the European Union to press Bahrain’s government to free Al-Khawaja, in particular the office of the EU’s High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, the relevant teams in the EEAS and the office of the President of the European Council Charles Michel. Al-Khawaja’s legal and health status must be the subject of EEAS-Government of Bahrain bilateral exchanges with a view to securing his immediate and unconditional release.

On 14 February 2024, the EEAS is expected to provide feedback on its latest round of discussions with the Government of Bahrain.

Since 2011, Denmark’s government has used its platform in the European Union to support resolutions denouncing Bahrain’s human rights abuses in 2014 and 2017. In 2022, Denmark intervened in the UN Human Rights Council to call for al-Khawaja’s release.

“We acknowledge the Government of Denmark’s advocacy on behalf of Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, but we are sorry to say that it has not been enough and more must be done,” said Oskar Stevens, Advocacy Lead of the #FreeAl-Khawaja Campaign. “With Al-Khawaja nearing thirteen years behind bars, now is the time for renewed, creative action and engagement to secure his release.”

For more on Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, an interactive chronology of his life can be found here.

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The #FreeAlKhawaja Campaign is an international campaign advocating for the release of prominent human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja. Al-Khawaja, a dual Danish-Bahraini citizen, was arbitrarily detained and tortured in 2011 in Bahrain for his role in the peaceful Bahraini uprising calling for fundamental freedoms in the country. Al-Khawaja remains wrongfully in prison until this day.

CIVICUS is the global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action throughout the world. Established in 1993 and since 2002 proudly headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa with additional hubs across the globe, CIVICUS has 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 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 region & in relation to thematic issues, notably statelessness. We engage with other NGOs, notably partners 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.