SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: August 30, 2014

Attack Types: Imprisonment


Region & Country:Western Asia | Bahrain

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On August 30, 2014, Maryam al-Khawaja, acting head of the Gulf Center for Human Rights, was detained as she entered Bahrain on a trip to see her father, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja — also of the Gulf Center — who, as of this report, is serving a life sentence in a Bahraini prison and is on hunger strike.

Ms. al-Khawaja is a prominent human rights defender who has regularly spoken out on behalf of threatened Bahraini scholars, as well activists and other human rights defenders, and has been a leading voice challenging human rights abuses by the Bahraini regime. Upon her arrival in Bahrain, she was reportedly taken into custody and charged with assaulting a policewoman at the airport (a claim that she denies), insulting the king, and participating in a campaign naming government officials allegedly responsible for torture. Following her arrest, she was remanded to Isa Town prison, where she remains as of this report.  In addition, Ms. al-Khawaja has reportedly been stripped of her Bahraini citizenship.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest, detention and loss of citizenship of an advocate for, among others, threatened scholars and students. The charges appear based solely on nonviolent expressive activity, conduct which is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. State officials have a responsibility not to interfere with the right to free expression, so long as that activity is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. Imprisonment and prosecution aimed at limiting such expressive activity undermine democratic society generally. Academic freedom and institutional autonomy are threatened when defenders of threatened scholars and students are targeted for their efforts. 

On September 16, 2014, a Bahraini court reportedly set Ms. al-Khawaja’s trial for October 1, 2014, and extended her detention until that time.  
On September 18, 2014, Ms. al-Khawaja was reportedly released from custody.  As of this report, however, the criminal charges against her remain pending, and Bahraini authorities have prohibited her from leaving the country.