After a prominent women’s rights defender was sentenced to a further year in prison, we the undersigned international human rights and feminist organisations call on the Bahraini government to stop sentencing women human rights defenders to jail in violation of their right to free expression, and instead to follow through on international commitments to empower women.
On 22 June 2016, Ghada Jamsheer, a writer, blogger, and journalist who is President of the Women’s Petition Committee (WPC), was sentenced on appeal to one year in prison by the Second High Criminal Court for four cases related to her tweets about corruption at King Hamad hospital.
Jamsheer has 12 charges against her related to this case and has already been sentenced to seven months in prison on three other related charges, in addition to one year in prison (suspended) on trumped up charges of “assaulting a police officer” while in custody.
She was also fined 10,000 dinars (approx. USD$26,500) for alleged defamation of the management of the hospital, headed by a member of the ruling family. Jamsheer was first arrested on 15 September 2014, and jailed for three months. She is now at risk of arrest at any time.
Jamsheer spent her birthday, 26 June, wondering if she would be arrested. “They want to jail me on my birthday, just like Zainab Al-Khawaja, to send a firm message,” said Jamsheer. That message is that criticism of the royal family won’t be tolerated.
Zainab Al-Khawaja was sentenced to a year in prison on her birthday on 21 October 2015, for tearing up a photo of the King, among other sentences totalling over three years. Following her release from prison in early June, she left the country to avoid further time in prison.
Her sister, Maryam Al-Khawaja, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) Co-Director, was also sentenced to a year in prison on trumped up charges of “assaulting” a police woman while in custody in September 2014 while trying to enter Bahrain. She shares a birthday with Jamsheer, as well as the threat of prison on these baseless charges if she returns to Bahrain.
In June 2016, UN Women accepted money from the Bahrain royal family to launch the HRH Princess Sabeeka Bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa Global Award for Women Empowerment, despite the fact that Bahrain remains in breach of its international human rights obligations. Women like Ghada Jamsheer, Zainab Al-Khawaja and Maryam Al-Khawaja should be empowered to speak freely and carry out their human rights activities unfettered, instead of jailing them when they speak up about injustice and corruption.
As such, and in recognition of the leadership she provides to women’s rights activists from around the world from her long history of work in favour of women’s rights and equality, we wish to nominate Ghada Jamsheer to be the first recipient of the Global Award for Women’s Empowerment.
In addition, we reiterate our concern about the ongoing targeting of human rights defenders in Bahrain and call on the government of Bahrain to:
- Overturn the sentences against Ghada Jamsheer and keep her free from prison;
- Overturn the sentences against Maryam and Zainab Al-Khawaja;
- Allow human rights defenders to carry out their work without fear of reprisals, and empower them to exercise their right to freedom of expression; and
- Release all human rights defenders immediately and ensure their protection from any judicial harassment and persecution in relation to their human rights activities.
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
FIDH, under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Front Line Defenders
Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
International Service for Human Rights
Nazra for Feminist Studies
Rafto Foundation for Human Rights
Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRD-IC)
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Photo: from Ghada Jamsheer’s personal collection, used with permission