Current Status

On 25 August 2014, Abudulhadi began an open-ended hunger strike to protest his ongoing arbitrary arrest and detention. According to Maryam Al-Khawaja, “The difference between this time and last time is that this time he will refuse to leave the prison to go to the hospital or even the prison’s own clinic because last time he was taken to a military hospital, they drugged him and ended his hunger strike by force-feeding him.”

On Thursday, 27 August, it was reported that Abdulhadi fainted while conducting prayers in the prison where he is held.

Abdulhadi suffers from a number of medical conditions as a result of his treatment in detention, including cramps in his facial muscles and acute pain in his coccyx as a direct result of torture. In 2014, Mr. Al-Khawaja was also informed that his medical files have “gone missing”. He has not received adequate medical treatment necessary to treat his medical conditions nor any rehabilitation for the torture suffered during detention in direct breach of Bahrain’s obligations under Article 14 of the Convention Against Torture.

Legal Status

On 7 January 2013, the legal process came to a conclusion for Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja when the highest court in Bahrain upheld the life sentence imposed against him. Abdulhadi was originally sentenced on June 22, 2011 by a military court created under temporary martial law under various charges, including including “organising and managing a terrorist organisation”, “attempt to overthrow the Government by force and in liaison with a terrorist organisation working for a foreign country” and “collection of money for a terrorist group”. A retrial was granted, but some charges were only slightly changed. The High Court of Appeals was expected to issue its verdict on June 14, 2012, but postponed it without giving any explanation, after refusing to hold any hearing session between October 2011 and late April 2012. Moreover, allegations of confessions under torture have not been investigated during the retrial.

Abdulhadi is recovering his health from the impact of his extended hunger strike, which lasted 110 days. His wife and family are able to visit him regularly and he is educating other prisoners on human rights standards.


In 2012, Abdulhadi and his family have been recognized for their courageous human rights work to promote freedom and democracy in Bahrain.

On 20 September 2012, the US organization Freedom House recognized Abdulhadi, Maryam and Zaynab Al-Khawaja with its annual Freedom Award. Maryam Al-Khawaja accepted the award on behalf of the family - watch her speech at the award dinner.

On 8 November, Maryam Al-Khawaja will receive the Stieg Larsson Prize in recognition of her and her family's "courageous struggle for democracy and human rights."

Hunger Strike

Abdulhadi ended his hunger strike on 25 May a few days after presenting testimony in his hearing at the Supreme Court of Appeal on 22 May. He felt his hunger strike had successfully brought international attention and pressure on the issue of political prisoners in Bahrain.

On Day 72, April 20th, according to Zaynab Al-Khawaja, Abdulhadi has called to request a lawyer to write his will. He also had a message to people in Bahrain: "if I die, in the next 24 hrs, I ask the people to continue on path of peaceful resistance, I don't want anybody to be hurt in my name."

Listen to latest CBC (Canada) radio interview with Zaynab Al-Khawaja.

On April 6th, one day after his 51st birthday, Abdulhadi's health has taken a critical turn, and he is now hospitalized in the military hospital, according to his lawyer and family. Concern is mounting and media attention is picking up.

On April 3rd, Day 55 of Abdulhadi's hunger strike, his daughter Maryam updated his health situation: "[My dad] is entering a critical phase where his life is at stake. He had two doctors accompanying him at all times last night, and today he is being moved to the fort prison due to lack of the necessary medical equipment in the central Jaw prison. This is due to fears that he may go into a coma at any time, as his blood sugar and blood pressure have both further dropped."

On March 30th, Day 51 of his hunger strike, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja hospitalized, according to his family.

Sahrawi organizations announce support for Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja.

Read the solidarity statement by Sahrawi Human Rights Defender Aminatou Haidar for Abdulhadi, issued on the 29th day of his hunger strike for freedom. When she was on the 29th day of her hunger strike some years ago, Abdulhadi sought to take action to support her, writing to Front Line Defenders Director Mary Lawlor urging the organization to support her.

On Friday, March 9th, a massive demonstration was held in Bahrain to protest the lack of political reform and the ongoing repression of pro-democracy and human rights protesters. At this protest, there were calls for Abdulhadi's release and signs and pictures in support of Abdulhadi. The head of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), who is preparing a report on the implementation of the BICI Report and recommendations, spoke about the lack of progress in the country. The day before the protest, the internet-activist group Anonymous released this video in support of pro-democracy activists and human rights defenders in Bahrain.

Read For Freedom, Zaynab Al-Khawaja's new piece about her father.

Listen to CBC (Canada) radio interview with Zaynab Al-Khawaja.

Listen to RTE (Ireland) radio interview with Zaynab Al-Khawaja.

On Sunday, March 4th (24th Day of Hunger Strike), Abdulhadi was taken once again to the hospital. Doctors tried to administer an IV tube, but were unable to because of the withering condition of his veins. He was returned to the prison after receiving water and glucose.

According to Abdulhadi’s wife, he can no longer tolerate sitting for longer than 10-15 minutes in the sun due to fatigue and spends most of his day lying down. She also said that her husband requires a hot water bottle to keep his body warm.

Abdulhadi's lawyer, Muhammad Al-Jishi confirmed that the hospital clinic can no longer administer IV fluids as Abdulhadi's veins are too weak.

On Monday, February 27th (18th Day of Hunger Strike), the Danish Consul Ann-Mari Petersen visited Abdulhadi in prison and reported his condition as fatigued.

On Saturday, February 25th (16th Day of Hunger Strike), Abdulhadi's wife, Khadija, tweeted a message to the people of the United States.

On Wednesday, February 15th (6th Day of Hunger Strike), Front Line Defenders Director Mary Lawlor and Deputy Director Andrew Anderson gave testimony at the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade at the Irish Houses of the Oireachtas (parliament), including information about Abdulhadi.

Read Abdulhadi's Open Letter to the Foreign Minister of Denmark.

See LATEST NEWS section for more media coverage.

Background: Abdulhadi’s Arrest, Torture and Trial

Abdulhadi Al Khawaja is a Bahraini human rights defender who was arrested in April 2011, beaten and tortured during the crackdown against those calling for reform.

He was sentenced to life imprisonment after a grossly unfair trial. Despite the recommendation (#1720, p. 423)) in the Report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) that all those who had been tried by military courts should have their cases reviewed by ordinary courts, this has not yet occurred.

On 9 April 2011, up to 20 armed and masked policemen broke into the family’s apartment in the middle of the night. Abdulhadi was dragged down the stairs and was beaten by up to five officers, including suffering kicks directly to the head. He was taken away unconscious. The family was not told where Abdulhadi had been taken or what he was accused of. Also arrested were two of Abdulhadi’s son-in-law, who were detained until 24 January 2012.

As a result of the injuries suffered upon his arrest, Abdulhadi required a 4-hour surgery to repair damage to his face. He spent 7 days in hospital, where the surgery left him with permanent damage and metal plates in his face to hold his jaw together. He was then moved to the Al-Qurain Prison where he was put in solitary confinement in a cell measuring 2.5 x 2 meters. Abdulhadi was subjected to physical and mental torture while in detention, including threats of sexual violence, which he tried to make known at his trial.

On 8 May 2011, Abdulhadi was brought by the Military Prosecutor before the National Safety Court to face a trial presided over by a military judge. The trial fell far short of international standards, and also did not meet Bahraini standards of fair trial. Despite repeated attempts to attend the initial hearings, two international trial observers sent by Front Line Defenders were denied access to the courtroom.

On 22 June 2011, Abdulhadi was convicted and given a life sentence on charges of “organizing and managing a terrorist organisation”, “attempt to overthrow the Government by force and in liaison with a terrorist organisation working for a foreign country” and the “collection of money for a terrorist group.” All of these charges were filed based on emergency legislation that the Bahraini government introduced during the wave of civilian protest that started in February. No credible evidence was presented in the hearing to support any of these charges, and the BICI report conclusively ruled out any foreign involvement in the pro-democracy protests.

The appeal to the National Safety Court of Appeal began on 6 September 2011. During the hearing, the court failed to address trial irregularities raised by Abdulhadi’s defence team and flatly rejected the pleas of the defence lawyers to call defence witnesses before the court. One of the lawyers described the court decision as “a dangerous precedent in the country’s judicial history.”

On 28 September 2011, the National Safety Court of Appeal upheld the life sentence imposed on Abdulhadi.

On 27 October 2011, lawyers for Abdulhadi filed an appeal to the Court of Cassation (Supreme Court) for a legal review of the National Safety Court trial.

Bahraini protester holds sign of support for Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, 26 March 2012

Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja - Human Rights Defender

From 2008 to 2011, Abdulhadi served as Front Line Defenders' Middle East and North Africa Protection Coordinator and in that capacity worked to support and protect human rights defenders across the region. During his tenure in the post, Abdulhadi conducted field missions, organized campaigns to free other HRDs from prison, coordinated security training and other practical support, reported to the United Nations and other international and regional bodies on the situation of human rights defenders, and helped advance the discourse for human rights protection in the region. More than 120 human rights defenders from across the region signed an appeal for his release within days of his arrest.

Prior to his working with Front Line Defenders, Abdulhadi co-founded and was the first President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, a renowned human rights institution that has served as a model for other such institutions in the Middle East. He is a member of the International Advisory Network of the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, headed by former Irish President Mary Robinson. He has previously worked with Amnesty International, and was named as ‘Activist of the Year’ in 2005 by the Arab Program for Human Rights Activists.

Abdulhadi is married and is the loving father of four wonderful daughters. He is also understandably very proud of his young grandson. His friends and colleagues at Front Line Defenders know him to be a gentle and kind man of the utmost integrity; someone who was always willing to help others, with a ready smile and a sparkle in his eyes.

Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja marching in protest with Nabeel Rajab and Ali Abdelemam.

Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja open letter to Danish Foreign Minister on eve of his hunger strike
Abdulhadi is an exceptional rights activist, working independently from any sect or political party. For many years he was subjected to numerous violations, as a result of his work defending the rights of others... We are concerned for his health and the baseless charges against him.
- Suad Al Gedsi, Yemen
Sadly, all security apparatus in the Arab world have one thing in common - namely persecuting the thinkers and virtuous people based on their activism and work defending the rights of others. Among those is Abdulhadi, due to his defence of human rights activists. I hope that Abdulhadi will be released soon, and that the detention files in the Arab world will be closed.
- Haithem Al Maleh, Syria