‘We Race for Freedom’: Free Abdulhadi al-Khawaja


22 February 2023, The European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) announces the launch of the ‘We Race for Freedom’ campaign, which seeks to advocate for the release of Bahraini-Danish award winning  human rights defender, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, imprisoned in Bahrain since 2011.

Following the peaceful pro-democracy protests in 2011, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja was arbitrarily detained by the Bahraini authorities and sentenced to life in prison on baseless terrorism-related charges and for allegedly receiving funding from foreign terrorist groups. He is an emblematic figure among the many prisoners held by the Bahraini government on politically motivated or fabricated charges, as part of the Kingdom’s strategy to silence any critical voice.

Despite the huge and long standing international outcry, human rights organizations, MEPs, various other European officials, UN Special Mandate Holders demanding his release over the last 12 years, Mr. Al-Khawaja remains imprisoned at Jau Prison. Throughout his incarceration, he has been subjected to torture, beatings, verbal abuse, threats of sexual assault as well as long periods of solitary confinement. He has protested his dreadful detention conditions and other forms of reprisals through six hunger strikes, which have taken a serious toll on his health. Mr. Al-Khawaja is currently being denied adequate medical attention, which is causing him to suffer from severe medical complications.

Mr. Al-Khawaja is also banned from receiving in-person visits from his family. The Bahraini authorities have been increasingly depriving high-profile inmates of medical care, family visits, and access to the prison commissary as a method of punishment for their activism.

The Government of Bahrain continues to judicially harass Mr. Al-Khawaja. In November 2022, he was convicted in absentia on two additional charges, one for breaking a chair and the other for insulting a prison guard. The Bahraini court of appeal, again without his presence, has recently ruled against his  right to appeal these two convictions.

We, at ECDHR, have launched this campaign with the aim of pressuring the Bahraini government to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja. We are deeply concerned  that the Government of Bahrain will yet again exploit the Formula 1 Grand Prix event to cover up the alarming political and human rights situation in the country, as sportswashing’ has been one of the monarchy’s most significant tools for this purpose. The Bahraini Government continues to attach great importance to the Bahrain Grand Prix and to link it with its progressive discourse and façade reforms. In this regard, the government has proved it will resort to any measures, including crackdowns on freedom of expression through arbitrary arrests, torture and violence that amounts to murder against critics, to maintain its international prestige.

The ‘We Race for Freedom’ initiative includes advocacy engagements with the governing body of motorsports Federation Internationale de l’Automobile, F1 drivers and public diplomacy, in collaboration with other non-governmental organizations, as well as social media activity.

United, we will pressure the Bahraini authorities to end the wrongful imprisonment of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and immediately and unconditionally release him.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact us at bahrain.advocacy@ecdhr.org.

Check our Twitter account at @ECDHRbxl for updates on the campaign and Mr. Al-Khawaja’s case.