Human Rights Watch has called for the immediate release of Zainab al-Khawaja, an eight-month pregnant Bahraini activist who was detained for “insulting” the king.
The New York-based NGO said on Thursday that Khawaja appeared before a Bahraini court to face charges related to two previous incidents, in which she had torn up photographs of the king. Once in the courtroom on Wednesday, she pulled out and ripped up another photograph of the monarch.
“A Bahraini rights activist jailed for ripping up a photo of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa in court on October 14, 2014, should be released immediately. Bahrain should drop all freedom-of-expression related charges against the activist, Zainab al-Khawaja, who is eight months pregnant and has been charged with insulting the king,” the body has said.
“Zainab al-Khawaja has exposed the thin skin of Bahraini authorities, armed again only with a photograph,” Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said.
“Where are the voices of the United States and United Kingdom, the supposed global champions of human rights, when it comes to Bahrain, a serial offender when it comes to punishing free speech,” he noted.
Amnesty International has said Khawaja could face up to seven years in prison if convicted. HRW has said she could also face a fine of up to USD 26,500.
She previously spent almost a year in prison on a number of charges, including taking part in illegal protests and insulting police officers, before being released in February.
Her father, prominent activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, is serving a life sentence after calling for a political reform in Bahrain.