Bahrain human rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja, photographed this year in the US, and arrested in Bahrain on August 30 in connection with an assault on an airport police officer
Bahrain human rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja, photographed this year in the US, and arrested in Bahrain on August 30 in connection with an assault on an airport police officer © - AFP/File
Bahrain human rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja, photographed this year in the US, and arrested in Bahrain on August 30 in connection with an assault on an airport police officer
AFP
Last updated: September 6, 2014

Bahrain extends activist's custody despite UN outcry

A Bahrain court ruled Saturday that prominent rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja be kept behind bars for an extra 10 days despite a UN call for her release, her lawyer said.

The Bahraini co-director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, who also has Danish nationality, was arrested for assaulting police after arriving at Manama airport on August 30.

Her lawyer Mohammed al-Jishi told AFP the judge ordered that Khawaja be kept in custody on that charge.

In a hearing held in the judge's office, and attended only by Jishi and a Danish diplomat, Khawaja insisted the charges against her were "vindictive and fabricated," said the lawyer.

Her arm in a sling, she countered by accusing police of attacking her at the airport. Jishi said Khawaja had to see a doctor during her custody due to her apparent trauma.

If convicted, Khawaja could face a maximum of two years in jail, Jishi said.

Bahrain's prosecution said in a statement that it was close to finalising its investigation in the case against Khawaja.

It said witnesses have said that Khawaja "took by surprise a female police officer and a policewoman when she hit them after they asked her to hand in her mobile phone as per arrest procedures."

It said that medical reports show that both personnel members were hurt.

On Friday, the United Nations called for Bahrain to release Khawaja, a member of the island kingdom's Shiite majority and the daughter of prominent opponent Abdulhadi al-Khawaja.

He was jailed for life following 2011 protests against authorities in the Sunni-ruled state across the Gulf from Shiite Iran.

Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the agency was "seriously concerned" that Khawaja had been arrested.

"We urge the government to take immediate steps to release Ms Khawaja and all human rights defenders and individuals detained for the peaceful exercise of their rights," she said in a statement.

- Vocal advocate abroad -

Khawaja has been very active abroad in criticising Bahraini authorities since the crackdown in 2011 on Shiite-led protests that took their cue from Arab Spring demonstrations demanding democratic reforms.

"Maryam is really being targeted because of her international advocacy work, including in Washington," said Brian Dooley of Human Rights First.

She has been a familiar figure in Washington over the past three years, said the US rights group, pointing out that she has regularly met with members of Congress and administration officials.

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

"The US government should make clear to its military ally Bahrain that there should be no reprisals against congressional witnesses," Dooley said.

Tiny but strategic Bahrain, home base for the US Fifth Fleet, remains deeply divided three years after the authorities crushed month-long protests with Saudi-led military backing.

Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who was convicted of plotting to topple the monarchy, has been on hunger strike along with other inmates since August 25.

He staged a 110-day hunger strike in 2012 in protest against his imprisonment.

On Saturday, Khawaja voiced determination to continue his hunger strike, in a phone call to his wife from prison, according to tweets posted by his daughter Zainab.

"Emotionally I am strong (but) physically it's not in my hands anymore," he said in a weak voice, according to his daughter, who goes by the handle angry arabiya on Twitter.

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