155 NGOs urge Bahrain king to free Shiite activist

AFP , Thursday 18 Sep 2014

Bahraini human rights campaigner Maryam al-Khawaja (Photo: Reuters)

Nearly 160 civil society groups from more than 60 countries have urged Bahrain's King Hamad to order the unconditional release of rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja, Reporters Without Borders announced Thursday.

Khawaja, a director of the Beirut-based Gulf Centre for Human Rights, also has Danish nationality and is a daughter of jailed Shiite opposition idol Abdulhadi al-Khawaja.

She was arrested after arriving at Manama airport on August 30 and will stand trial from October 1 for allegedly assaulting a police officer.

"We, the undersigned 155 civil society organisations based in over 60 countries write to you united in our condemnation of the politically motivated arrest of human rights defender and co-director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Maryam al-Khawaja," said the letter sent to the king, which was also received by AFP.

"We urge that Maryam is immediately and unconditionally released," it added.

Khawaja "is being persecuted for exercising her legitimate rights to freedom of expression and association in the defence of fundamental freedoms including her cooperation with international institutions and her important role in documenting human rights violations in Bahrain," it said.

"We stand in solidarity with Maryam and all other human rights defenders wrongly imprisoned by your government for their work and beliefs," it added.

Tiny but strategic Bahrain, home base of the US Fifth Fleet, remains deeply divided three years after the authorities crushed month-long protests.

Abdulhadi al-Khawaja was jailed for life following the 2011 Shiite-led protests against authorities in the Sunni-ruled Gulf state.

His daughter has been active abroad in criticising the Bahraini authorities since the crackdown.

She has been a familiar figure in Washington, regularly meeting members of Congress and administration officials.

In 2011, she testified as a witness at a congressional hearing on Bahrain.

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