A Bahraini human rights activist has been arrested along with her 15-month-old son. The Human rights watchdog group, Human Rights First, reported that “Zainab Al Khawaja and her baby were seized from her home today by security officers.”
The Monday arrest came as Al Khawaja was facing a three year sentence for several charges including tearing up pictures of Bahrain’s King Hama bin Isa Al Khalifa, The Guardian reported.
Bahraini officials would not comment on the arrests, but Khawaja’s sister later said a warrant indicated the detention was connected to the prison sentence.
Basic human rights like free speech, freedom of association and assembly, free expression, and freedom of religion have been under attack in Bahrain for years.
Al Khawaja’s father was sentenced to life in prison in 2011 for his role in ‘Arab Spring’ demonstrations. Bahraini Arab Spring protests focused largely on achieving political freedom and equality for Shias who make up a majority of the population in a country ruled by a Sunni monarchy.
In November of that year a report released by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry confirmed a litany of human rights abuses. In August of 2015, Senators Marco Rubio and Ron Wyden introduced the BICI Accountability Act, which prohibited the sale or transfer of crowd control items until the Bahraini government implemented recommendations made in the 2011 report.
In February, an Associated Press reporter witnessed police firing tear gas at demonstrators in the Shia community of Sitra.
For their part Human Rights First has made a list of recommendations intended to protect American values and our reputation as a leader on human rights in the region. Recommendations include public statements condemning the imprisoning of peaceful protestors, a review of our relationship with Bahrain, public scrutiny of the trials for opponents of the ruling monarchy, support for the BICI Accountability Act, and international media access to Bahrain among others.
Bahrain is a close ally of the U.S. and home to the Navy’s 5th Fleet. It’s worth reminding Americans that 15 of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi Arabian. The Saudis, while longtime “friends” of the U.S., have also been longtime violators of basic human rights. Continued rights abuses in Bahrain drive home an important point, our image on the streets of the Middle East is a direct reflection of the governments with which we align ourselves.